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BANKING/FINANCE : County Bank for Chinese-Americans Decides to Have a Go at L.A. Market

December 09, 1987|James S. Granelli, Times Staff Writer

Grand National Bank opened nearly four years ago in Santa Ana to serve the Chinese community in Orange County, according to Dr. Po-Ping Wong, who led a group of Chinese-American businessmen to invest in the bank.

Trouble is, no Chinese community exists in Orange County.

An estimated 50,000 Chinese-Americans are scattered from Fullerton to San Clemente, Wong said, and the bank tries to serve them all from its base near the heart of the county's freeway system. Though 60% of its accounts come from Chinese-Americans, he said, the effort wasn't paying off.

So Grand National took an unusual step for a small Orange County bank--it opened a branch in Los Angeles County. Specifically, it opened for business about a year ago in Alhambra, the heart of Los Angeles County's growing Chinese community.

The Alhambra branch is doing well, according to Barry Rubens, chief executive officer of California Research Corp., a Santa Monica-based consulting firm that is helping the bank. But the competition from Asian banks is stiff. One Asian bank, Cathay Bank, is coming to Orange County to open a branch in the Vietnamese community in Garden Grove, and others are not far behind, Wong said.

With $33.8 million in assets at the end of September and $98,000 in net income for the first nine months, Grand National is a "good, clean, well-run bank," Wong said. "We'll grow slowly and watch the profit line. We don't try to compete with bigger banks."

One local consultant said the talk in the industry is that Grand National is for sale, and Wong isn't discouraging the rumor.

"Anything is for sale if the price is right," he said. "We are businessmen. If someone can approach me with a good price, we will listen. Nothing is set in concrete. But we are not actively telling people we are for sale."

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