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Minority Banks are Called to Account

California's Chinese banks come under fire for being, well, too Chinese.
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For decades, Chinese businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles faced discrimination by large banks. So, starting in the mid-1970s, they opened their own. Instrumental in helping immigrants become entrepreneurs, these institutions are now under fire from a watchdog group called the Greenlining Institute because they don't lend enough to African Americans and Latinos.

The institute has a solid track record of getting big banks to change their ways; so they've gone after United Commercial Bank, which reported 70% of small-business customers were Asian, 14% were Latino, and a scant 3% were African American in 2001-02. UCB, with $5 billion in assets, lends less to Filipinos and Vietnamese, the institute noted.

William Chang of Asian American Economic Development Enterprises, which supports Asian businesses in L.A., says the banks "may drag their feet in other communities," but only because most branches are in Asian neighborhoods. As they open more branches, their pool of customers will become more diverse, Chang says.

Vice president Eleanor Chang says UCB is working with the Greenlining Institute. She adds that UCB shouldn't be lumped in with Wells Fargo and Bank of America--and it won't neglect the community that fueled its growth. "As far as I'm concerned, we are still a minority," she says.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2003




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