Hanmi headquarters building on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown.

Hanmi headquarters building on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Hanmi Bank’s slogan is “Life gets better.” That has certainly proved true for the Korean-American lender lately.

One of the most troubled local banks during the recession, Hanmi is working its way back to respectability amid efforts to clean up bad assets, raise once-depressed capital levels and regain its stature as one of Koreatown’s leading financial institutions.

The bank, a subsidiary of Hanmi Financial Corp., is also bolstering its personnel, including last week’s chief financial officer hire of Lonny Robinson, a veteran of the Korean-American banking scene who recently worked at rival Center Bank.

The bank’s stock, still way down from prerecession highs, was one of last week’s biggest gainers on the LABJ Index, rising nearly 19 percent to close at $1.03 on Oct. 12. (See page 26.)

As recently as last year, competitors were openly speculating on the likelihood of Hanmi’s failure. Analysts now believe the bank’s deepest troubles are behind it.

“It looks like they’re going to be a survivor,” said Joseph Gladue, an analyst with West. L.A.’s B. Riley & Co., who initiated coverage on Hanmi last week. “They have made strides. They’ve shrunk the balance sheet and it looks like they do have the capital to make it through the remaining difficulties. They still do have a significant market share in that market.”

Hanmi has not necessarily overcome all its challenges, however. Share value remains at a fraction of prerecession highs, the bank still has bad assets to work through and Hanmi may have to raise capital again in the near future, analysts said.

But the institution is expected to report a modest profit when it announces earnings this week, which would mark the fourth consecutive quarter in the black after losing more than $400 million between 2007 and 2010.

Gladue said he expects the bank to remain profitable for the foreseeable future.

Once the largest Korean-American bank, Hanmi had fallen to the No. 3 spot, but this year climbed back to No. 2 as rival Wilshire State Bank stumbled. Hanmi executives said size does matter and the bank is looking to grow.

David Yang, investor relations manager for Hanmi, said the bank has hired additional loan officers and is engaged in a multifaceted marketing campaign to bring in both new customers and ones that left the bank over the past few years.

“We’re campaigning to bring back our customer base,” Yang said. “We would like to stay competitive. We’re in much better shape than a year and a half ago.”

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