New UniBank president takes over a bank in good health

LYNNWOOD — UniBank launched less than two years ago with just more than $20 million in capital and a mission to serve the area’s growing Asian population.

The bank now has been profitable for 14 months in a row, boasts assets of more than $100 million and is carrying no bad loans.

That’s the enviable position Daniel Lee, UniBank’s new president, found as he started last week. Born and raised in Korea, where he also started his 37-year-long career in banking, Lee also has worked for a number of banks in the U.S. After working for two Los Angeles banks, Lee spent the past four years in Atlanta.

Lee’s cultural background matches that of UniBank’s biggest customer base. UniBank’s founding CEO, Andrew Ghim, also was born in Korea and specifically marketed the bank toward the sizable Korean and larger Asian populations in south Snohomish County.

Lee said UniBank wants to expand into other areas of the Puget Sound region with similarly clustered Korean populations, including Tacoma, south King County and the Bellevue area. With that in mind, his goal is to open branches in those locations, starting in 2009.

But UniBank also wants to reach out to other potential customers, including other ethnic communities, Lee added. Even before he took over from interim president Paul Sabado, UniBank launched a new marketing campaign to boost its deposits.

In addition to its accounts and services aimed at small businesses, UniBank has a competitive slate of personal accounts, including interest-bearing checking and basic free checking accounts. The bank has agreements allowing its customers to use the ATM networks of US Bank and Wells Fargo, and it offers free mobile banking services.

The bank’s deposits have grown to $71 million, with total assets now at $103.2 million, Lee said.

Growing assets is not the new CEO’s first priority, however. Instead it will be to increase profits. The bank reported ­second-quarter income after taxes of $231,000, bringing its profit for the first half of the year to $486,000. That was about double what the bank made in all of 2007.

“My goal is to increase profit by 20 percent every year,” Lee said, adding he wants to improve the bank’s return-on-assets ratio as well. Those numbers are much more key to UniBank’s long-term future than the amount of assets, he explained.

Another key figure: UniBank holds more than $79 million in loans, all apparently in good standing. Bad loans, especially to the now-struggling construction sector, have hit many area banking firms, including bigger community banks such as Frontier, Cascade and City Bank.

“Even in this bad economy, UniBank doesn’t have any outstanding loans over 90 days. No problem loans at all,” Lee said.

A fan of the outdoors who has visited all the country’s national parks, Lee said he’s happy to be in an area with lots of recreational opportunities. He’s also happy to be relatively close to Mount Rainier, which he visited more than a decade ago.

“My hobby is camping. I like nature very much,” Lee said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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