Sadly, we have been reminded that nothing is safe in this economy. In January, we ran a profile on Washington First International Bank (WFIB). We asked its president and CEO, Elizabeth Huang, how the bank was doing in light of the economy. Though she admitted to difficulties, she was also optimistic that enough capital could be raised.
We were shocked when we heard news last week that WFIB was shut down by the FDIC because it wasn’t able to make its deadline.
WFIB was the first Chinese-organized commercial bank in Washington state. It came onto the scene in 1990 and was helmed by a husband and wife team, Elizabeth and Arnold Huang. The Huangs were detail oriented and well-versed in banking. Elizabeth Huang had the credentials — she was a former professor of banking at the University of Washington. The bank was a family business that became ingrained into the Asian community during its 20 years.
If the opportunity arises, let’s send well-wishes to those who have lost the most in WFIB being shut down — the shareholders and bank directors.
Now, people who wish to patronize Asian banks have fewer choices. There used to be four Asian-owned banks in the International District, but now there are only two.
There is a bright spot, though. East West, the bank that took over WFIB, is a welcomed addition to the Puget Sound area. East West is the biggest Asian community bank, with $20 billion in assets. Just to give you the scope of how big East West is, the next biggest bank has only $11 billion in assets. The average community bank has about $2 to $3 billion.
East West’s CEO and president, Dominic Ng, also seems very competent. He was in Seattle last weekend, and our impression of him is that he’s businesslike, intelligent, and honest. This surprised us because how many CEOs readily admit to problems in the past? Ng talked about how there had been issues in 2007, but the bank was able to detect problems early enough and cut losses. Ng seems to understand immigrants’ needs a lot better than others do.
East West has also reassured all of WFIB’s employees and told them that they’d keep their jobs. Last Saturday there was a meeting at a private club for all former WFIB employees who weren’t working. At the meeting, questions were answered and the employees were welcomed into the East West family. We find this heartening, and we thank East West for this.
We also hope that East West will bring more collaboration between businesses serving the Asian community to the Puget Sound, something they are known for in California. ♦