A Koreatown bank has doubled down in New Jersey – the first stop on what could be a wider expansion into other big cities across the United States.

Wilshire Bancorp, parent of Wilshire State Bank, last week said that it plans to buy BankAsiana, a Palisades Park, N.J., bank with three branches in the New York-New Jersey region. It’s the second bank Wilshire has purchased there.

And the deal likely won’t be Wilshire’s last. Like rival Korean-American bank BBCN Bancorp, which is also buying banks outside of California, Wilshire wants to broaden its customer base beyond the huge Korean-American community in Los Angeles to include other Asian-Americans and more mainstream customers.

Alex Ko, Wilshire’s chief financial officer, said the bank is looking for small ethnic banks in the Pacific Northwest and a broad swath of the Eastern United States from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

“We want to be buyers,” Ko said. “We are actively looking for opportunities. We want to have a nationwide branch network.”

In building its presence outside of Southern California, Wilshire is well behind the larger BBCN, which bought its first bank outside of California 15 years ago and already has locations in Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Denver and Dallas. BBCN has continued to expand in a few of those markets, recently acquiring Seattle’s Pacific International bank and announcing plans to buy Chicago’s Foster Bank Shares Inc.

Kevin Kim, BBCN’s chief executive, said the bank is interested in any major metro areas with large or growing Korean-American populations and that the bank is very open-minded about additional acquisitions.

By expanding into other markets and looking for new customers, both banks are hoping to become less dependent on local Korean-American banking customers, said Julianna Balicka, a bank analyst who follows Wilshire and BBCN for Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc. in San Francisco.

“The California market is pretty saturated,” she said. “In other markets, the bank tends to get more favorable pricing on loans and deposits.”

Plans paused

In acquiring BankAsiana, a deal expected to close at the end of the year, Ko said Wilshire will double its share of the New York-New Jersey market and bolster its Small Business Administration loan business. Wilshire’s SBA customers tend to be larger businesses that take out bigger loans, while BankAsiana typically caters to smaller businesses.

“We’ll be adding smaller customers to the customers we already have,” Ko said. “The customers BankAsiana had to deny, we can serve them with larger loan balances.”


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