takers, value makers
pays off in Chinatown bank by building trust and community value
little more than a decade ago, Betty Chow '88 was content
in her job as a staff development officer with the Federal
Reserve Bank of Chicago.
along came a realization that would change her career path
— and shape her life. A group of friends, all Chicago-based
professionals of Chinese descent, noticed the lack of Chinese-owned
banks in Chinatown.
friends collectively dreamed of opening a bank that would
cater to the needs of Chinese immigrants, but at first dismissed
the idea as too difficult. It would be two years before the
group of nine, led by Chow with her extensive knowledge of
banking regulation, decided to plunge ahead with their plan.
sent four or five people to meet with the state regulators
and learn about the application procedures," remembers
Chow, now president and CEO of the resulting Pacific Global
Bank. "We realized it would be difficult, but not impossible.
And we really felt there was a need."
complete the application, the group needed to find an address
to house their proposed bank. But that meant a rather large
gamble: renting or buying a building without the secure knowledge
that regulators would approve the bank.
Chow and company plunged ahead. "I don't know where we
got the courage, but we bought the building," she remembers.
The bank's first branch, set in a pagoda-shaped building,
is located on Wentworth Ave. in Chicago's Chinatown.
established, bank leaders set about their goal of serving
a distinct immigrant community. Most staff are bi- or trilingual.
Chow herself speaks four Chinese dialects. Pacific Global
installed the first Chinese-language automated teller machine
in the Chicago area and taught customers, many of whom were
unfamiliar with the technology, to use it. Since some immigrants
are reluctant to write checks, the bank collects utility bills
as a service.
take a lot of pride in helping people," says Chow, a
graduate of the Kellogg Executive MBA Program. "For me
that's the most rewarding part of the job."
many cases, Chow says, helping one person boosts the entire
community. Several years ago, the bank loaned a customer $50,000
to begin importing foodstuffs from China. Today, Chow notes,
the quality of Chinese food available at Chinatown grocery
stores has improved dramatically. Another loan customer, who
started a construction company, has helped renew sections
of Chinatown and other parts of Chicago.
opening a second Chinatown branch and another in a neighboring
community, the bank is expanding its base to include Spanish-speaking
immigrants and others. The common denominator in serving all
populations is respect for customers and a focus on integrity,
is very important," she adds. "There's a lot of
predatory lending out there. We don't want to mislead our
biggest challenge to date is staffing. Since few experienced
bankers in Chicago speak Chinese, Chow has elected to train
promising candidates who already have acquired the language
skill. In this endeavor, she says her Kellogg School education
has proven vital.
really helped me learn how to get my work done through other
people," she says. "Before, I always thought if
I was doing a good job that was good enough. In my position
now, I have to develop other people to get the work done."
a skill that has played a part in transforming Chow into a