Even though the number of Korean immigrants to Los Angeles has decreased in recent years, the overall Asian population in L.A. County is still expected to grow at a fairly moderate pace. As of July 1998, there were 1.2 million Asian/Pacific Islanders living in L.A. County, making up about 13 percent of the total population, according to the Department of Finance.

The department estimates that number will increase at an annual rate of between 0.9 and 1.9 percent for the next 20 years. But other populations will grow only slightly slower, the department estimates, so Asian/Pacific Islanders will make up a little over 14 percent of the total local population by 2020.

That's a significantly slower increase than that of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Asian population grew rapidly and went from 3.3 percent of the total L.A. County population in 1970 to 10.3 percent in 1990.

At the same time, the majority of Asian immigrants arriving in California is expected to come from mainland China, rather than from Taiwan and Hong Kong. And it's not clear to what extent these immigrants will rely on the established Chinese-American banks, which are often Taiwanese in origin.

"Many of the mainland Chinese immigrants are very driven," said one local expert on the Far East who asked not to be identified. "They are very individualistic. They pick up English fast, and they are quick to adapt and to interact with mainstream Americans."

Heading for the suburbs

As the profile of Asian immigrants is slowly changing, a growing number of more-established and second-generation Chinese and Korean Americans are moving out of the traditional immigrant neighborhoods and into the suburbs.

"The communities are becoming more diffused," said Derek Derman, banking analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. "As a result, the banks on the retail side are strategically opening up branches in other Chinese communities."

Like Hanmi Bank, Chinese-American banks are also reaching out to underserved ethnic minorities outside their own communities in order to be less dependent on one single group.

These may be Latino, Central American, or other Asian minorities, such as Vietnamese or Filipino, who are also arriving in large numbers in L.A. County and who often live in close proximity to the Chinese and Korean communities.

"We want to use our product, not our ethnicity, as our niche," said Li-Pei Wu, chairman and chief executive of General Bank. "We use our expertise in international finance to expand into other market segments, particularly other immigrant groups."

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