How East West Bank bridged opportunities for Asian American success

How East West Bank bridged opportunities for Asian American successHow East West Bank bridged opportunities for Asian American success
via East West Bank
Fifty years ago, East West Bank opened its doors in Los Angeles with a mission to serve the often-overlooked Chinese American community. Founded as a haven against discrimination, it has since grown into a bridge of opportunities, connecting diverse cultures and fostering mutual prosperity.
Last year, the bank commemorated its 50th anniversary, hosting celebrations from an Oscars-inspired evening in Los Angeles to regional events in Asia. It also released a feature-length documentary titled “The Bridge,” which takes a look back at its history and support for Asian American communities.
Inclusive beginnings
East West Bank was founded in 1973 in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood to primarily serve the needs of Chinese Americans who faced significant barriers in accessing financial services from mainstream banks. This initiative of its eight co-founders — F. Chow Chan, Betty Tom Chu, Richard K. Quan, Gilbert L. Leong, Philip Chow, John A Nuccio, Christopher L. Pocino and John M. Lee — made it the first federally chartered savings institution focused on this underserved population.
The bank recognized the cultural and linguistic challenges Chinese Americans had faced at the time. Because many community members were more comfortable speaking Mandarin or Cantonese, the bank employed bilingual staff who could communicate in these languages, making it easier for them to navigate banking processes and understand financial products.
East West Bank opened in inaugural location in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1973. Image via East West Bank
When mainstream banks made it difficult for Chinese American small businesses to secure loans and lines of credit, East West Bank provided their much-needed capital. This support was critical in helping entrepreneurs establish and expand their enterprises, contributing to the economic vitality of their local communities.
By focusing on the specific needs of the Chinese American community, East West Bank aimed to build a strong foundation of trust. The bank also played a role in promoting financial literacy, providing educational resources and guidance on topics such as budgeting, saving, investing and credit management. This education empowered individuals to make informed financial decisions.
Growth and expansion
From 1979, East West Bank began expanding into surrounding neighborhoods such as Montebello, Silver Lake, Artesia, South Pasadena and other San Gabriel Valley cities. This expansion continued through the 1980s, driven by the growing Chinese American community. In 1984, the headquarters were relocated from Los Angeles’ Chinatown to San Marino, California, to better serve suburban communities.
The bank’s growth accelerated in 1991 when the Nursalim family of Indonesia acquired it, followed by the appointment of Dominic Ng as president and CEO in 1992. Under Ng’s leadership, East West Bank enhanced its services, including the introduction of trilingual language services (English, Chinese and Spanish) — the first in the country — on ATMs in 1994, and the launch of the first bilingual website and online banking services in 2000.
The grand opening of the Arcadia branch, East West Bank’s first new branch following the appointment of Dominic Ng (second from left) as president and CEO in 1992. Image via East West Bank
Throughout the 1990s, East West Bank deepened its commitment to immigrant communities, converting its charter into a full-service commercial bank in 1995. This allowed the bank to meet the increasing commercial banking needs of its customers. The bank’s “Spirit of Ownership” program, launched in 1998, turned every associate into a shareholder, fostering a culture of pride and ownership.
From the late 1990s to early 2000s, the bank had gone public, trading on Nasdaq under the symbol EWBC. This period also saw the bank pioneering new services, such as opening in-store branches in Asian American supermarkets and expanding internationally with a representative office in Beijing.
Cultural bridges
The 2000s marked a significant era for East West Bank as it partnered with cultural icons and institutions to build bridges between the East and the West. The bank’s collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and other esteemed museums brought dynamic contemporary Chinese art to American audiences. Partnerships with public figures like world figure skating champion — and now U.S. ambassador to Belize Michelle Kwan — and the Los Angeles Lakers further solidified its cultural outreach.
East West Bank’s strategic acquisitions during the global financial crisis in the late 2000s strengthened its position as one of the largest independent commercial banks in California, expanding its footprint across the U.S. This expansion continued with its acquisition of MetroCorp Bancshares Inc., broadening its reach to Texas, and the opening of new branches in China.
East West Bank officials ring the opening bell at Nasdaq to commemorate the bank’s 20th anniversary as a publicly traded company in 2019. Image via East West Bank
Now with over 120 locations across the U.S. and Asia, East West Bank remains committed to its inclusive roots, serving as a premier financial bridge between the East and West. Last year was marked by significant recognition, including Dominic Ng’s appointment to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council by President Joe Biden. With its ever-expanding scope, the bank continuously caters to a more diverse clientele.
In honor of its 50-year journey, the East West Bank Foundation commissioned “The Bridge,” a feature-length documentary directed by Evan Leong. The film explores the bank’s history and its role in empowering the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, featuring interviews with notable figures such as Michelle Kwan, Janet Yang and Michelle Yeoh.
At its heart, the 85-minute documentary showcases those who have reached success despite facing adversity — particularly being treated as “perpetual foreigners” — and have cemented themselves as active, contributing members of American society. JJ Lin and Anderson .Paak collaborated for its theme song “In the Joy.
“The Bridge” is now available for streaming on Apple TV, Google Play and Prime Video. Watch the trailer below:

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