How an Indian American jeweller turned successful banker

April 9th, 2008 - 1:42 pm ICT by admin  

By Ashok Easwaran
Chicago, April 9 (IANS) For about three decades, Chicago businessman Moti Agarwal has had diverse business interests, including hotels and a wholesale trade in gold and diamonds. Now he has joined a handful of Indian Americans who have overcome stringent federal requirements to set up a bank. Although it would seem to be an unusual diversification for Agarwal, he had been mulling the proposal for several years. He also sees his Millennium Bank as a logical evolution of his role as a wholesaler in jewellery.

In the jewellery business, he has been offering credit worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to his clients, he said.

“It was completely unsecured credit without so much as a signature,” Agarwal told IANS in an interview. “So in a sense, I have been working on a banking model for over 20 years.”

Even as he offered unsecured credit to his clients, his first loan from a bank was something of a revelation.

“Even if you take a $50,000 bank loan, you have to almost sign away your life to the bank - with a lien on the business, on the home…,” said Agarwal.

So it was quite natural that Agarwal would combine his business acumen, his experience as a wholesale trader, and his standing in the community to establish a bank last year.

“This has been my cherished dream for several years,” he said.

It has not been an easy journey though, given the rigorous scrutiny of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other regulatory authorities. Finally, however, Agarwal’s persistence won the day.

“At no time did I even think that I should give it up. If you start a project, you must put your heart into it and push it to its completion,” Agarwal said.

Given the hurdles, a positive attitude was essential, he added.

“We will focus on every community, not just South Asians,” Agarwal said. “We have several products for businesses and offer a quick decision on loans.”

The bank will offer several customer-oriented innovations like Check 21 whereby a customer need not physically visit the bank to deposit a cheque.

“The cheque can be scanned and sent to the bank, which will credit his account with the amount. The cheque thus remains in the customer’s possession,” Agarwal explained.

The secret of his success as an entrepreneur? “Persistence,” Agarwal quipped, “I never give up once I start a project.”

Ever since the bank started operations, Agarwal’s days are frenetic. But he does make time for music, especially Indian classical music, of which he is a connoisseur.

Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is a close friend and Agarwal has organised three concerts for him, one of them at the Chicago Symphony Center.

“He is a great musician as well as a great human being,” the businessman said.

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