2007 Honorees - Chinese American Banking Pioneers
On May 12, 2007, The Chinese Historical
Society of Southern California (CHSSC) honored Los Angeles
Chinese American banking pioneers at the CHSSC's Annual Spring
Dinner. Early Chinese American immigrants often pooled the
economic resources of sometimes ten or fifteen partners to open
a small restaurant, store, or laundry. Most of them worked
completely in a cash economy, carried money in bags on their
bodies, or hid money in their mattresses.
In 1937, there was only one Chinese bank on the west coast, the
Bank of Canton, operated by the Republic of China as a
government bank in San Francisco. It was to remain that way
until the early 1960s, when businessmen such as Paul H. Louie of
San Francisco, F. Chow Chan of Los Angeles, and Robert Chinn of
Seattle made a strong bid to open Chinese American banks or
thrift institutions in their own communities. Their efforts to
obtain charters were repeatedly turned down.
The Beginnings: 1960-70s
By the 1950s and 1960s, the Los Angeles Chinatown community's
growing financial needs were not being met. It was very
difficult for Chinese Americans to get loans; home ownership was
a luxury. F. Chow Chan of Phoenix Bakery in Chinatown had to go
downtown to do his banking. The terms were difficult; there was
often discrimination against people of color.
F. Chow Chan eventually was able to obtain charter to start
Cathay Bank and East West Bank, the forerunners of two Chinese
American financial institutions in Los Angeles. Betty Tom Chu,
one of the founders of East West Bank recalls, "The Chinese did
not even have the privilege of being denied a loan, because they
were denied the application form!" Today all that has changed
thanks to the efforts of far sighted Los Angeles Chinese
American banking pioneers. They saw a need to offer financial
services to the Chinese American community and filled that need.