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.