It’s a familiar story whether experienced firsthand, seen in popular media or read in the news.

Asian immigrants have been coming to America to earn money for a long time, yet still struggle with the issue of where to put that money once they’ve earned it.  Many simply hold on to it — in some cases accumulating large amounts of cash and stashing it at home.

This can result in great consequences as one famous Washington Post report highlighted more than a decade ago about a Chinese-American DC-area business owner who was a target of home robberies and lost $170,000 because of his decision to store his funds at home. The piece draws attention to a cultural and financial phenomenon of choosing not to keep money at the bank due to cultural stigma, personal beliefs or other barriers.

Thankfully, in Seattle, “things are getting better somewhat now,” says Judy Lui, the branch manager of KeyBank in the Chinatown-International District. “Some new immigrants may distrust banks here in the beginning due to their own culture, language barriers or different background, so our job, most importantly, is to build trust among the immigrant community.”

When asked what strategies the bank has undertaken to gain the trust of skeptical immigrants, Judy elaborated on their approach:

“First of all, we speak the same language as our clients, understand their background, traditions, and customs, which makes them feel closer and more trusting towards us; also, the communication helps them to open up to us gradually, feel more comfortable and take their walls down over time. For example, with a new client, we can start with asking some basic questions to get to know them better.”

This process doesn’t happen overnight, though. Rather it’s a gradual progression in which mutual understanding blooms and shines over time, through deliberate efforts by both the bank staff and the clients.
Qing Zhao, a 62-year-old who immigrated from Liaoning, China a few years ago, was one of these type of clients. Over time since he has been in the U.S., he opened a bank account, and his been putting his faith in the U.S. banking system ever since.

“The representative is friendly and professional,” explained Zhao. “She came from the same country as me, speaking the same language and knowing more about our traditions and values. With her help, I feel much more comfortable and have more faith about where my money is deposited.”

Other factors also play a significant role in these customers’ decision-making since technology has progressively improved.

“For example, education helps customers to realize the importance of the safety issue, and then they are able to see the whole financial picture,” Lui explained.

Increased education among immigrants enables them to have a better grasp of financial institutions. Much of the stability of a bank, for example, is guaranteed through the assistance of such government institutions as the Federal

Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), whose purpose is to insure customer deposits of up to 250,000.

“These days, people can just read in the news about robberies or the dangers of holding cash,” Lui explained.

“It’s just not safe to leave your cash at home or to carry it around. I hear this kind of warning all the time these days,” Zhao said.

With a combination of these warnings and building trust, Lui continues to work towards better outcomes and build trust speaking in Chinese.

“I would like to see more and more people feel more trust towards banks here, for both their own financial benefit and safety,” said Lui.

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