Sunday, 14 April 2024

YuYu interview Leo Liao


When you came to the US you could have gone anywhere you wanted, why did you choose San Diego?

It’s really very simple…San Diego has so much natural beauty and I love nature. While its true that 20 years ago other places had more business opportunities, none of them could compare to San Diego in regards to quality of life. It really suited me…peaceful, no traffic jams, good people and it’s still close to Los Angeles and Orange County.

—— Still starting your life over in a new country must have been difficult?

Sure there were times when it was frustrating, but I always remained positive. It wasn’t the first time for me to live abroad so I knew what to expect. I previously spent 5 years in Tokyo and during that times I learned so much that continues to help me...not just the language, but a way of thinking and looking at things. I can still remember having to be sure to visit my “hoshonin” every month or he would call my father in Taiwan… and then I’d be in big trouble. Even today I still have many strong connections with Japan.

—— What inspired you to open " First United Bank"?

5_1.jpg Well in part it came from my experience as an immigrant. When I first came to San Diego, like so many others, I didn’t have a credit history in the United States and for the most part my credit history abroad wasn’t of much interest to the mainstream banking institutions. They either couldn’t verify it or did not have the resources or interest to verify it. That left me in an awkward position because even though I had deposited substantial amounts with those banks, initially they wouldn’t extend credit to me. Their rules and methods were not designed to take into account people like me and it was very frustrating. Eventually, I ended up having to do business with banks that specialized in dealing with people in my situation, because they had the knowledge, resources and desire to service this market.
Over the years, as I talked with other people and businessmen such as myself, I realized I wasn’t alone in this experience. A lot of people had been frustrated by the rigid banking system. The problem was that until we founded "First United Bank" there were no San Diego banks offering these services. Back then, it was called "San Diego First Bank", but when we expanded to Los Angeles a couple of years ago we changed our name to be suit our new and future markets.

—— So you took this negative and turned it into a positive by filling this banking void.

Exactly! Every cloud has a silver lining and this was ours.

—— When did San Diego First Bank open for business?

Twelve years ago 10 people including myself founded First United Bank to serve people that weren’t adequately being served by any other San Diego bank. We thought the timing was right because we felt San Diego was going to grow and we knew there was a great influx of new immigrants coming into San Diego…a whole community who wanted to live here and open businesses etc. We also knew that when they walked into a bank and needed to borrow money for their business or real estate the banks would probably say no…because they didn’t have any credit history or TRW, even though they might be worth millions of dollars. Our goal was to be different and to provide a service to this niche market.

—— What sets First United Bank is it different than most banks?

We are different and very much the same. We must be the same in many ways because of the laws and regulations governing banking, but we are very different because we make an effort to know and understand our clients and because of our own personal experiences doing business here. For example, we have people on our staff that can speak English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and so on, so language isn’t a barrier here and we make it easy for our customers to do business with us.
I’ll give you another example…let’s say a small Japanese or Taiwanese company wants to come to San Diego…they have a factory in TJ, maybe some land, workers and may be very successful in their home country, but they still don’t have many assets or history in the US. Most banks won’t help them… they’re afraid to help them. We can and will. We can because we have the ability and know-how to check their resources in Japan or Taiwan to see if they are who they say they are. Typical banks generally don’t want to take the time or don’t know how to do this. Anything out of the ordinary is too much trouble for most banks. This is one of our strengths.

—— How have you been able to "grow" your bank and let people know about your services?

Word of mouth and our participation in the community we serve. We feel very strongly about our commitment to give something back to the community. One of the ways we do this is by taking part in as many community events as possible. We want people to know about us as a good neighbor, helping everyone to be better and stronger. So we are involved in sponsoring events all around San Diego, big and small. Additionally, we also make our staff available to speak at various functions and events…to talk about business, the economy, financial matters and our community.

—— Speaking of business and the economy, what does the future hold for San Diego?

5_2.jpg I feel San Diego will keep growing…first because we have some very important industries here… wireless communication and biotech. These 2 sectors are very important for both the present and the future… not just for SD, but for the entire world. Secondly, San Diego has the space for people to live and industries to grow and expand. Thirdly, we are blessed with a great climate and environment. Anytime someone comes here they don’t want to leave. Finally, there is our neighbor Mexico. Their economy is growing too, especially near the border. Many companies will continue to locate here… building their headquarters here and their production facilities in Mexico. So I think San Diego is ideally suited for future growth.

—— In addition to your bank I know you're very involved with the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce in San Diego. Could you tell us more about that?

Sure. A couple of years before we started First United Bank, we founded the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce in San Diego. As a result of the time I spent in Japan, I learned the value of teamwork and structures. This helped give me the idea to create something bigger to bring Taiwanese businesses and people together here in San Diego. One thing led to another and after a few more years we created the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of North America to bring together all the various North American Chambers. Later we took things to another level when we created the World Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce that serves to tie together all the various Taiwanese Chambers located throughout the world. After we did this, the Taiwanese government was very impressed. We caught their eye and they watched as we grew and were amazed! They had never seen this kind of organization by Taiwanese people before… so they invited us to meet the President of Taiwan. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to meet and know almost all of the various ministers, as well as, many key US politicians. Currently, I’m serving as Chairman of the WTCC and we are established in 49 countries, with 108 local branches, so now when I speak to the President of Taiwan I tell him my territory is much bigger than his. (laughing)

—— So you’ve grown to have a global perspective on things?

Yes. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this… is that everybody has something to contribute. Everyone is a little different and each culture, Chinese, Japanese, American is too, but the key is… for all of us to work together… and when we do we’re all better for it. Sometimes we have to pay the price to learn, but then our experience helps to smooth the way for the future.

—— You've already accomplished so much, of which accomplishment are you proudest?

Everything! No, it’s simple… my family. I have a great family… a lovely wife, 2 boys and a girl. They mean everything to me. As a Christian, I’ve been blessed and given the opportunity to serve our community for over twenty years and I’m thankful for that.

Leo Liao ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Leo Liao, Ph.D., lives in Del Mar with his wife Cindy and three children, Jimmy, Johnny, and Jenny. He is the Chairman of the World Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce, a founder of San Diego First Bank and a member of the Economic Development Committee for Asia from California. Additionally he is involved in numerous other companies including World Wellness Enterprises, trading and computer related companies. In addition to English he also speaks Japanese, Mandarin, Taiwanese and Cantonese.

(10-16-2002 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)