By Linda Goodspeed
A New York-headquartered bank has recently expanded into Florida, where it intends to bring the same financial discipline that has made it one of the top performing community banks in the country.
Amerasia Bank, rated a top 10 bank nationally by SNL Financial since 2010, is headquartered in Flushing. In 2013, the bank, which also has an office in Elmhurst, expanded into the Miami market with two branches, and in September will open its third Florida branch in Orlando.
Amerasia was founded in 1988 by Taiwanese immigrant James Huang. Huang, who was educated as a civil engineer in Taiwan, emigrated to America in 1974. He has lived in New York City ever since.
“As a first-generation immigrant, my goal was to start a new life and complete my dream in this new land,” Huang said. “But many immigrants like myself find it difficult to establish banking relationships with mainstream banks.”
Huang’s solution was to start his own bank. With fellow Taiwanese immigrants, Huang spent three years scraping together the $5.5 million minimum capital required at the time, and opened Amerasia in 1988 in Flushing.
“Our niche is catering to minority and immigrants, especially those of Asian descent, who often have a hard time communicating or working with larger banks,” Huang said.
Huang’s vision was not unique. In the 1980s, two other banks founded by Taiwanese immigrants opened in Flushing, home to a large and growing Asian population and the sixth largest retail center in the city. The banking environment is particularly competitive. But following recent mergers of the two other Asian banks, Amerasia will soon be the only domestic Taiwanese-American owned bank left in Flushing, and the only one in New York State.
Over the years, Amerasia has received many awards for its financial management. It has been on SNL Financial’s “top 10” list of best performing banks under $500 million (among approximately 4,300 banks nationally) since 2010, rising to number one in 2011. In 2010 and 2011, Financial Management Consulting Group rated Amerasia the top bank in New York for best performance. BauerFinancial, Inc., an independent bank rating company, gives Amerasia a five star rating.
Booming in Bleak Times
“We have always been very conservative in our outlook and that has helped us tremendously,” Huang said.
He said Amerasia actually grew faster during the Great Recession.
“When other banks struggled during this period, a conservative and healthy bank like us had the opportunity and the obligation to be more aggressive. Our growth was actually better during the recession.”
Amerasia has $430 million in total assets (as of year-end 2014), up from $379 million in 2013. Deposits total $384 million, up from $339 million in 2013. Its loan portfolio of $370 million is primarily made up of commercial mortgages with an average loan size of $1 million.
In 2007, nearly 20 years after its founding and after much internal discussion, Amerasia opened a second branch in Elmhurst, about five miles from Flushing, with another large Asian population.
“From the beginning of the bank, my ideal was not expansion but to start a good, solid and profitable bank,” Huang said of the delay. “I never had aspirations for growth but rather aimed for stability. After I felt our management and staff were matured enough and I was fully comfortable with the expansion, we decided to open a second location and diversify our service area because Flushing was becoming saturated and Elmhurst is another community that fits our customer base.”
In April 2013, Amerasia diversified further when it merged with Great Eastern Bank of Florida, a small ($46 million in assets) Asian bank, and assumed their two branches in Miami.
“We felt Florida was a good opportunity for us,” said Jimmy Tsai, Amerasia’s chief operating officer. “It had the same kind of market niche, board of directors and structure. We felt it was a good fit for us and was a size we could handle, and also gave us the potential to diversify our market.”
With the merger, Amerasia is now the only Asian bank in Florida. Tsai said the bank will open a third branch in Orlando in September.
“We are still looking for opportunities to explore other territories,” Tsai said.
“Other territories” includes more than just geographical expansion.
“We are looking to expand beyond the Asian community,” Huang said.
He credits the bank’s employees, many of whom have been with Amerasia for 15 or more years, and some since its inception, for much of the bank’s success to date.
“Our practice is to promote employees within our organization instead of hiring outside help,” Huang said. “We provide on-the-job training so they fit nicely into our business culture and marketing strategies. Our employees are our most valuable asset because they help us know and understand our customers. Our employees live, work and are involved in the communities we serve. Many of our friends become our customers, and many of our customers become our friends.”■