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Andrew Pan: the Ultimate Business Matchmaker

October 03, 2016
Andrew Pan, senior vice president and head of East West Bank’s China Business and Strategy.
Andrew Pan, senior vice president and head of East West Bank’s China Business and Strategy

Andrew Pan is senior vice president and head of East West Bank’s China Business and Strategy. As the main point of contact for developing relationships and implementing strategies between the United States and China, Pan has been the “matchmaker” who marries businesses with the financial service experts they need.

What does business matchmaking entail; what exactly is it that you do?

What I’m doing here is three-fold. The first part is focused on China strategy. My team and I help the bank identify and develop U.S.-China and cross-border bridge-banking opportunities. The traffic on the cross-border bridge is heavy. My job is to understand what opportunities lie before us by figuring out which industries and products the bank can focus on for the future.

We also focus on what’s happening inside of China, especially because we have a subsidiary there that looks into how we can develop and expand our presence in the region. So we manage government relations and regulatory relationships.

The second part of my job is to ensure business development. While we develop a strategy by identifying industries, we go deeper to seek out how to practically bring revenue to the bank in the form of higher deposits, loans, fee incomes, etc. We send our team members out into the market to develop personal and business relationships. That’s why you’re seeing so many business cards stacked on my desk!

My way, or our way, of doing business, is to collect all kinds of information after identifying a focus, industry and strategy. When we target the right group of people and send our team to gather information from public sources like events, vendors, referrals, etc. we are able to see the whole picture. Once we sift through all of this intel, we try to identify the bankable opportunities by matching them with our existing resources. My team only does referrals. When we identify potential clients, we match them with the right relationship manager and, through all sorts of business development activities, we build up a relationship. Once we find out that there’s a real bankable opportunity, we internally identify the resources needed – for example, branch offices and relationship managers who are culturally compatible, language-savvy and who have expertise in business banking. We match them to our internal staff as best as we can to work and win over a client.

We always maintain the highest level of integrity and information to close a deal. Everything is based on market research and daily in-person communication with our clients, not to mention going up against our fierce competitors. My team’s job is challenging and time-consuming, but, when you learn how to navigate it, it’s very rewarding.

One of our biggest value propositions and differentiators from other banks is a term that we developed ourselves: beyond banking. To be completely candid, every bank offers similar types of products for clients. We don’t want to compete just with interest rates, because that’s not our strategy. Our strategy is that we can do just as well or even better than any other bank in the market with our products, services and, most importantly, our beyond-banking experience.

What does that mean? Because Chinese individuals and businesses come from a different cultural background, they need a lot of support when they enter the U.S. Our beyond-banking experience involves building up a platform and providing advisory services to help our clients build a stronger network. We go the extra mile by offering value-added services, which in return builds loyalty and trust that benefits the bank. The Gemdale Group, for example, is one of the top 10 real estate companies from China. When they decided to establish a presence in Los Angeles, we helped them settle down in Pasadena by referring professional services like a real estate broker, and they are now loyal clients that bring new business such as loans, deposits and FX. Their CEO is now a personal friend, and that type of personal value and relationship may not be that relevant to banking itself, but it adds to our beyond-banking experience.

Finally, I also manage our correspondent banking, which is essentially business with other banks in greater China and globally.

How do you strategize and capture business from China?

Honestly, I’m not a banker. I’m a relationship guy. So I think I have the instinct and skills to build up a relationship with a customer, win their trust and eventually earn their business. My philosophy is friendship first. Because that way, I can always look at the longer-term objective and go beyond the immediate gratification of winning business. I go with the desire to help my friends and we’re now at a level where we’re playing golf together. I help them grow and let them know that East West Bank should be a part of it. I see that most of the time, when my clients feel happier and appreciated, they’re more willing to open the door to us. Overall, we gain better results from investing in personal relationships rather than forcing hard sales on our clients.

At East West Bank, we manage a lot of inbound Chinese businesses. We’re seeing an influx of cargo, capital, people, you name it; everything is coming through the cross-border bridge and we’re facilitating the flow. The traffic on the cross-border bridge is so heavy, that even if we only capture a small portion, we still benefit.

Fortunately, the slowdown in the Chinese economy hasn’t affected our business much and, overall, China is a big economy. Put in a simple way, when the Chinese economy is good, the Chinese influx is here. When the Chinese economy isn’t good, the Chinese influx may be even bigger. There may be short-term repercussions for businesses with the slowdown, but the long-term benefits are still there and more diversified. The Chinese are very strategic about their investments and look to safeguard their assets. To them, the U.S. is a secure place.

How did you become SVP-Head of China Business and Strategy?

I joined the bank six years ago, and this was actually my first private-sector job. I was in the public sector for more than 20 years, representing the city of Shenzhen. My main job back then was to work with Fortune 500 companies and help them enter the Chinese market. So my past experience was mainly helping American companies do business in China. Since then, things have reversed completely and more Chinese companies are moving westward. It’s pretty ironic, actually; I saw the whole direction and trend being changed 180 degrees. Of course, there are still American companies breaking into the Chinese market, but now it’s more local market brands and Chinese capital that’s entering the U.S.

I came on just as East West Bank was transitioning from a local Chinese community bank to more of a U.S.-China cross border bank. I was recruited to help redefine and expand the bank’s cross-border business strategy, especially with mainland China.

Since then, I’ve been able to best apply my experience at the bank, despite having traditionally dealt with larger Fortune 500 companies. Scaling smaller and managing relationships at a more intimate level makes the bank the perfect place to apply my experience and expertise. I also feel like I’m able to contribute more and make a bigger and more positive impact on the company overall.

How do you manage all of your relationships and what value do you provide to them?

You know, my wife always complains that I married my work. She calls me the CEO – Chief Entertaining Officer! I’m entertaining my clients all the time and have a busy schedule, but my team really helps me with our network. I focus primarily on one group, while the rest of my team will share the responsibilities and help take care of clients.

The reason why we’re so deeply integrated and connected in the market is because we’ve built up a business relationship platform. We only have a few people on our team, so how do we get the most information and develop the most meaningful relationships with our clients? I introduce to you the cross-referral platform.

This platform has been working very well and I actually implemented this at my work in Shenzhen. Even though our target audience was different, the model applies very well to this current work. The gist of it is, rather than trying to connect with businesses one by one, we go to service providers, business associations and government offices first by building up relationships with these places. This way, we can get more information and add value for these places by helping their networks grow as well. We reach out to places like the L.A. Chamber of Commerce to see which businesses are coming and trying to succeed in L.A. We now have a large number of businesses with a specific focus between the U.S. and China, from law firms to consulting services.

We have a lot of firsthand information that we can share with service providers and organizations. They benefit because we also refer our clients to them. My philosophy is multi-way – my platform has tons of expertise that these organizations could use and benefit from.

Is a match made in heaven the most satisfying aspect of your job?

I find it most satisfying when we help our clients using my platform and networks. When they benefit from us and feel appreciated, clients are more willing to open up their doors to share their leads and let us help them grow their businesses. It’s not only that I get to help my friends, but, as an added bonus, I get to help the bank.

Here’s an example. Stella Li, President and CEO of BYD USA Company, called me in May and said, “Andrew, the chairman is in town and he wants to pay a visit to Caltech because he’s interested in seeing what R&D in battery technology is being developed.” At that point, she didn’t even have to finish her sentence; I picked up the phone and called someone within Caltech to make the introduction for BYD Company to the university. Both parties benefited and I might have helped initiate a potential partnership between the two. It’s a win-win situation. BYD Company appreciates us for making the right introduction, and Caltech benefitted from meeting one of the wealthiest and most influential chairmen in China. That meeting couldn’t have been established without the appropriate connection. That’s where we add value.

Managing these relationships isn’t about simple gratification, though. It takes a long time to establish, and you need the right types of networks to make magic happen. Sometimes it could take years. My team looks at the long-term benefits – it may not make sense right now to be forging certain relationships, but down the road, we anticipate them leading to another win-win situation. Despite every day being spent with my phone ringing, WeChat pinging and emails loading, I’m able to fit in so much information and make matches between different organizations and businesses. In the market, people are always saying, “Ask Andrew. Andrew can solve any problem!”