Making the American dream occur for herself and her neighborhood

Law is the vice president of retail branch operations at Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York City. Her day-to-day jobs range from the ordinary — confirming checks, for example — to thinking about methods to much better link the bank’s immigrant clients with brand-new innovation.

Grace Law’s transfer to the U.S. from Hong Kong to work for a Chase branch in New York City was a far cry from a flashy city dream. 

Most of her days started at 7:30 a.m. so she might participate in classes at Pace University, where Chase sponsored her making her organization administration degree. Then after work, she would return to school for a late night class. 

This was her regimen for 9 years up until she finished. But she had actually chosen the chance to make a college degree deserved the long days. Law was 27 years of ages in 1990 when she moved from her task as a teller at a Chase branch in Hong Kong to a customer support representative function at one of the bank’s branches in the Big Apple. She assisted Mandarin-speaking clients in lower Manhattan.

“I was young at the time, so I was thinking why not just try it out?” she stated about being provided the task at the 2 Bowery Chase branch. “You’ve heard about the American dream, right?” 

Now more than 3 years later on, Law works as the vice president of retail branch operations for the 4 branches of Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York City. Law deals with the sales operations and deposits department, and her day-to-day jobs range from the ordinary — confirming checks, for example — to thinking about methods to much better link the bank’s immigrant clients with brand-new innovation. 

The $310 million-asset family-owned bank was established in 1984 by Thomas Sung, who immigrated from Shanghai to the United States in 1952. He has actually considering that passed the management on to 2 of his children, Jill Sung, who presently works as CEO, and Vera Sung, who works as a director. The bank was, and still is, a pillar of Chinatown’s economy. 

Even in this digital age, branches stay a vital part of lots of organizations’ operations and the monetary services market in general. There are still customers who choose entering a branch for the individual touch that they will not get with electronic banking alternatives. Many customers likewise still bask in understanding there is a physical location they can go to if an issue develops. 

Branch supervisors and other branch executives, such as Law, aid guarantee these large networks of areas run efficiently which there is constantly a smiling face there to welcome clients who are available in with a concern or an issue. Because of that, American Banker is running a series of stories highlighting the efforts of these lenders. 

Law stated that the most significant part of her work is the decision-making power to assist clients and to customize banking product or services to the requirements of her neighborhood.

“So with the experience and understanding of customers’ needs, I can try to make changes,” she stated. “Because we are small, with less layers of management, we can be flexible and quick to make changes.” 

Climbing (down) the business ladder

 Law didn’t set out to be a long-lasting lender and rather came across the profession. She began as a teller at Citibank in Hong Kong prior to she signed up with Chase. 

At Chase in New York, she stated she took pleasure in the liberty to attempt various functions and was motivated to explore her capacity as a leader. She was even sent out to a networking series, “Emerging Leaders Navigating the Future,” by the bank in 1998. 

After 17 years with Chase, Law left and took a task simply down the street with Hong Kong-based HSBC as a senior branch supervisor. She keeps in mind dotting the “eyes” of the dragon boat with a paintbrush throughout HSBC’s yearly dragon boat race celebration at Flushing Meadows Park — the honorary last touch generally scheduled for the bank’s VIP clients. 

She then transferred to Cathay Bank, a Chinese-owned organization based upon the West Coast. One of her most significant accomplishments there was assisting to produce an escrow item for proprietors that had a master account gotten in touch with different sub-accounts. The item was established to assist a regional seniors house that had actually wished to deal with Cathay however could not due to the fact that the bank didn’t provide this escrow item. 

Then simply 2 years earlier, Law landed at Abacus. Her profession trajectory might appear counterproductive considered that she has actually taken functions at progressively smaller sized organizations. But each relocation provided her with larger supervisory tasks and offered her a bigger voice in crucial choices. 

“I had no experience doing this,” Law stated of her existing task managing Abacus’ branches. “For a larger bank, they won’t hire me for this position. This is a good way for me to really learn and make changes.” 

As the companies she worked for diminished in size, Law’s capability to affect her instant neighborhood swelled. “I’m an advocate for my customers and employees as well,” she stated. 

For circumstances, Law takes pride in having the ability to assist an immigrant who does not have a long-term address open an account or a client who is trying to find a charge card in spite of having no credit rating. Abacus supplies items for these clients who are typically neglected by other traditional monetary services business. 

Jill Sung, CEO of Abacus, vouched for Law’s capability to make modification for the much better. 

“She’s very willing to ride through challenges, which is really important in a small bank — to be able to play more than just one single role,” stated Sung. “You can’t be siloed in a small bank. You have to be able to move through different roles and meet challenges as they come.” 

IMG_4703 (1).jpg

Abacus Federal Savings Bank was established in 1984 by Thomas Sung, who immigrated from Shanghai to the United States in 1952. He has actually considering that passed the management on to 2 of his children, Jill Sung, who presently works as CEO, and Vera Sung, who works as a director.

Not as easy as chatbots

On Law’s desk in her branch supervisor’s workplace sit 3 tension balls she utilizes to decompress throughout work: 2 red star-shaped balls and a yellow one with spokes jutting out. She utilizes them as a tip to relax when coming across an especially discouraging issue. “The hardest part is trying to manage your emotions when your employee does something wrong,” stated Law as she looked out her window on the 6th flooring of Abacus’ head office. She uses a set of pearl earrings that twinkle under her cropped hair and a marble jade bracelet that glimpses out from her sleeve. “You have to calm down first and find a way to talk to them. If you are too emotional, maybe you’ll say something to hurt them.” 

Law likewise pursues perseverance with clients who pertain to the bank for aid with technological or language support. Most of Abacus’ clients’ mother tongue stays Chinese, indicating performing their banking in English can be a battle. Because of that, Law is determined that branch workers have the ability to speak the language of the neighborhood being served. Branch workers should have the ability to do whatever from strolling clients through monetary files to assisting them securely alter a password to an online checking account. 

Although digital banking has actually decreased the value of branches for much of the market, in-person interactions still stay important for Abacus provided this language barrier. During the pandemic, when other banks shuttered their branches, Abacus remained open for all however one day. The day after the bank had actually shut its doors, clients lined up outdoors to get aid. That’s simply one indication of how crucial in-person interactions are to Abacus’ clients, Sung stated. 

Sung included that a few of Abacus’ clients are doubtful about what takes place to their cash after they leave it to the “internet black hole.” 

“Bigger banks over time will move much more freely to digitize,” she included. “They can sort of choose what they’re going to do and not going to do. But a small bank like ours, we don’t really pick and choose. We have to meet the demands of our market.” 

Still, Abacus clients wonder about the possibility of more smooth and effective methods to move their cash, consisting of payment apps like Venmo or Zelle, according to Law. It’s simply a matter of correct education and threat evaluation. 

To make apps such as those available for Abacus’ clients, she is preparing a video tutorial in Chinese that will be used branch tvs that stroll clients through specific electronic banking alternatives. 

“We have to work with the technology. We just have to do it in different ways,” Law stated. 

The American dream

“Most people have the American dream,” stated Law. “So [my family was] really happy that I came here. They were supportive.” 

But this pledge of liberty has actually come at an expense sometimes. Law has actually experienced considerable modifications and historical occasions over the years she has actually resided in New York City. Law strongly keeps in mind 9/11. The aircrafts clashed into the Twin Towers, which were simply a stone’s toss from the Chase branch at 2 Bowery. She saw individuals “running from downtown covered in white dust” from her teller’s window. 

She hurried to her automobile to drive to her kid in Brooklyn. When she got to the Manhattan bridge and saw that it had actually been barricaded, she reversed to the nearby parking area and strolled from Manhattan to Brooklyn rather. 

More just recently, as a creator of a brand-new Kiwanis Club department, the Kiwanis Club of Community Care, Law and her group of volunteers partnered with the New York Police Department to assist patrol regional train stations in the consequences of the murder of Christina Yuna Lee and other hate criminal offenses targeting Asian American females in 2022. Lee was stabbed to death inside her Chrystie Street house in Chinatown, triggering demonstrations in the Asian American neighborhood. 

In this function, she likewise equated a moms and dad’s guide for the avoidance of teen substance abuse into Chinese after a number of overdose occurrences in her community. 

On specific days after work, Law practices Tai Chi, a Chinese meditative martial art, in a neighboring studio. “I picked it up because it is hard for me to do other exercises. This is slow and you can really take your own time,” stated Law. 

Sung stated that Law’s highest quality is her “desire to be part of this mission” of focusing on the requirements of the customer. “Banks like ours, mission-based banks, have people who are not just willing to accept, but also believe in the mission,” stated Sung. “We believe in the smaller institution because … we’ve seen that we will be more accountable to our consumer and to our market.” 

Sung stated that it can be tough sometimes to get Abacus’ message out that smaller sized, neighborhood banks are much better able to serve clients. 

“My father, when he started the bank, told us, ‘If the community doesn’t need you anymore, you’ll know it,'” stated Sung. “At that time, maybe you will look and see whether or not institutions should be here. But so long as the community needs you then you need to be here.” 

For now, as Law waters her violet plants and cacti that indulge in the sunshine from her workplace window daily, that appears to be the case. “It’s another chapter of my life — to do something different. This organization provides me the opportunity to learn and is community-oriented,” she stated. “Together we can work to help the community a lot.”


A news media journalist always on the go, I've been published in major publications including VICE, The Atlantic, and TIME.

Related Articles

Back to top button