In 2007, East West Bank, the second-largest bank headquartered in Los Angeles, hired Garry South to work with it on its acquisition of Desert Community Bank, another California-based institution based in the High Desert area.

Since the announcement of East West’s intent to purchase Desert Community Bank, several self-appointed activist groups located out of the service area had begun a campaign of vilification against East West Bank, seeking either to stop the acquisition, or to force hearings by the Federal Reserve or Congress. The attacks included outrageous accusations that East West Bank — a minority-led institution that got its start as a small savings-and-loan serving the credit needs of underbanked or unbanked Chinese immigrants — was discriminating against other minorities, especially Latinos. One radio talk show host even engaged in a racist rant against the bank and its CEO, a Chinese American, calling him a “foreigner” and a “Chinese-looking guy.”

Working closely with East West’s senior management team, South helped develop short- and long-term fight-back strategies to expose the false allegations, protect the reputation of the bank and shore up support for the acquisition. In the end, the Federal Reserve Board approved the acquisition of Desert Community Bank unanimously, the first instance of a minority-led bank in California acquiring a non-minority bank.

Banking on Racism