Nearly all Chinese immigrants in NY have a bank account

Updated: 2013-05-08 11:15

By Hu Haidan in New York (China Daily)

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A recent study found that 95 percent of Chinese immigrants living in New York City have a US bank account, the highest of three ethnic groups surveyed.

Recent arrivals from Mexico, Ecuador and China were selected for the official survey because they make up a large and growing proportion of the city's first-generation immigrant population. Also, the three communities vary in levels of assimilation and financial access, the mayor's office and the city's Department of Consumer Affairs explained in their rationale for the joint study.

The agencies said in releasing results in mid-April that 1,324 immigrants were surveyed - roughly one-third from each ethnic group. In terms of banking, Chinese immigrants were followed by the 65 percent of Ecuadorean New Yorkers who reported having a US bank account and the 43 percent of Mexicans who said so.

The results reflect Chinese ideals of thrift and caution, said Brian Lee, who has worked for 12 years as a certified public accountant and financial adviser in Flushing, a neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens that is home to many recent immigrants from China.

"Chinese are willing to plan for their future and their next generation," he said. "Saving money is one of the most important and common ways to implement their plans."

A large proportion of Chinese respondents in the survey expressed both short- and long-term aspirations regarding savings and asset accumulation. In the latter category, 48 percent said they were saving for their children's education while 31 percent said buying a house or apartment in the US was a long-range goal. Among the two-thirds with short-term goals, top priorities were saving for an emergency such as a job loss or unforeseen health care.

For all three immigrant groups surveyed, low income was the biggest obstacle to opening a bank account.

"I don't have enough money for the minimum balance and fees" was a common refrain among those without an account.

About 27 percent of Mexican New Yorkers and 20 percent of Ecuadoreans reported less than $300 in weekly household income; less than 5 percent of Chinese respondents reported that level.

Among Chinese who have lived in the US less than seven years, one in 10 said they were not an account-holder. Conversely, for Chinese who have been in the US more than seven years, the rate was 100 percent.

"Those who have been in the US only a short period of time usually won't be 'banked' or invested unless they feel they can live a relatively stable life here," Lee said.

Although 5 percent of Chinese weren't connected to a bank, 81 percent of them reported other modes of saving, such as remitting pay to China.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents reported sending money to their country of origin. However, remittances were often sent through money transfer agents and check-cashing services. They preferred transfer agents because of their relatively low cost, transparent pricing and convenience.

Legal status and language barriers were other factors. Sixty percent of Mexican respondents and 49 percent of Ecuadoreans said they would open a bank account if they found a bank that didn't require a Social Security number or a passport. Also, 62 percent of Mexican immigrants and 57 percent of Ecuadoreans would open an account if they found a bank with Spanish-speaking staff.

For Chinese immigrants, language was less of an issue in banking. In Flushing, more than 30 banks are represented. JP Morgan Chase & Co has opened three branches while Bank of China Ltd plans to relocate its branch from Manhattan's Chinatown this year.

Wang Juan, 57, said she hasn't had difficulty banking in Flushing.

"I can't speak English, but they can speak Chinese," she said of the employees at her bank.

The survey by the Consumer Affairs Department's Office of Financial Empowerment and the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs was part of the city's One NYC One Nation initiative, which enlists philanthropists, political leaders and community leaders to identify ways to better serve immigrant communities.