There is now a new kid on the block: Ash Patel in the West coast has managed to gather the required $7 million base to open Premier Commercial bank, strategically located next to the much-frequented Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. His bank's deposits in the last half-year have grown to an enviable $45 million. Apart from these relatively visible banks, there are a number of virtually unknown Indian-owned banks scattered across the continent.
Since Indians form a significant immigrant population in the U.S., it might seem surprising that none of these banks have yet tapped into this extraordinarily rich customer base. Most of these Indian-owned banks have chosen to cater exclusively to the hotel and motel industries, a traditionally strong business-hold of the Gujaratis.
"When we came here forty years ago, there were only two kinds of immigrants from India: the engineers and doctors who came on scholarships to study and work, and people like us, from the business side," says Ambarish Mahajan. "We worked our way up in the motel industry, and when we saw the opportunity to finance new motels around the U.S, we capitalized on it. Nobody thought of it as a good business. It is only today that engineers and doctors are turning into businessmen."
Entrepreneurial pioneers such as Mahajan have built strong empires on business banking and are quite content with their growth. But do they see their banks growing in the future? "We are open to anybody who wishes to do business with us. In fact, Mutual's consumer banking is doing very well in Illinois," he says.
Ash Patel, speaking on behalf of Premier Commercial Bank, echoes Mahajan's sentiment. He explains, "I come from a Gujarati family, and I can understand the Indian culture of doing business - their needs and their dreams. I also realize the need for seed capital amongst new, growing firms. We are willing to talk to them, and see what their business potential is. In fact, our current clients include some software and hardware firms, and an Indian restaurant."
When Patel walked out of his previous job as a senior banker, his clients followed him. Premier has loaned out about $15 million and has enough to loan out in the coming months. Given its proximity to Disneyland and the strong growth-rate of the motel industry, Patel seems to have positioned himself quite well in the market.
While Indian-owned banks have not been altogether assiduous in tapping into the Indian consumer market, international banking chains have quickly moved to secure a foothold in this lucrative market. International banks like Citibank are wooing Indian consumers with incentives like free money transfers to India and high-interest deposits - some are even opening new branches in local Indian communities.
Well-established banks such as Wells Fargo, Union Bank, and Comerica are also attracting Indian-owned small businesses by offering them a number of incentives for small businesses such as government-assisted Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, lines of credit, and equipment loans. Unless Indian-owned banks specifically gear their services toward Indian-owned small businesses, it is unlikely that they will successfully woo Indian business customers away from these larger banks.
Indian-owned banks might do well to learn from the example of United Commercial Bank (UCB), which has 34 branches in California and boasts a stunning $2.4 billion in assets. Much of UCB's success can be attributed to the fact that it actively seeks to cater to Chinese immigrants, who number about 2.4 million.