From left: Nancy Okubo, Kazuo Koshi and George Tanaka of Union Bank at the Japanese American National Museum, one of the Japanese American institutions that Union Bank has supported through its long history. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

With the merger of Union Bank and U.S. Bancorp expected to close later this year, Kaz Koshi, executive chairman of Union Bank MUFG, said he is working to ensure a smooth transition in all aspects.

“Doing it right, doing it orderly and seamlessly to our clients, communities and colleagues is critically important to me,” Koshi said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

Last September, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp announced the purchase of most of the American banking unit of MUFG Union Bank. The deal is worth approximately $17.6 billion.

Based in New York, Koshi has more than 30 years of experience working with MUFG and serves as executive chairman of the boards of MUAH and MUB, as well as multiple distinct positions for Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and for MUFG Bank, Ltd., its commercial banking subsidiary. In recent years he has been engaged in its strategy in the Americas.

The interview setting was the Japanese American National Museum, one of the many philanthropic institutions that are supported by Union Bank. The JANM 30th anniversary gala on April 30 is among the events sponsored by the bank this year, as well as the recent Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Koshi shared that his sempai (seniors) at the bank often shared stories of Bank of Tokyo of California, which opened its branch in Little Tokyo in 1952, with Matsujiro Takeshita as its first president. The bank was created shortly after the 1951 signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which re-established peaceful relations between Japan and the Allied Powers.

Kazuo Koshi, executive chariman of MUFG Americas Holdings Corporation and MUFG Union Bank, N.A., speaks during an interview with The Rafu Shimpo. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“It couldn’t start banking without the support of Japanese American community, individual small businesses that returned from internment,” Koshi said. “So really there is a value having a bank that understands the Japanese American community. That was critical. Bank of Tokyo California wouldn’t exist if that support didn’t come.”

Koshi said he is sharing these stories now with colleagues at U.S. Bancorp, which was founded in 1863 and has more than 3,000 branch locations nationwide.

“Now an opportunity has come to share these stories with my U.S. Bank colleagues and they really appreciate that part. Because it was not well advertised during deal negotiation mode. But post the announcement and sign the contract, I’ve taken every opportunity I’ve had to talk about our legacy and how this JA and Japanese community is important to Union Bank and its good business. It’s not just for community relations, it’s good business for us, because these clients are very loyal.”

The current MUFG Union Bank website has a page dedicated to Japanese services, and there are Japanese-speaking representatives in Gardena, Irvine, Little Tokyo, Montebello, South Gardena and Torrance.

“They pass their accounts from generation after generation. This story is resonating with U.S. Bank. I hope they will continue the partnership we’ve had with the community,” Koshi said.

George Tanaka, Nancy Okubo and Kazuo Koshi outside the Japanese American National Museum. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

The executive chairman said customers will benefit with better ATMs, better online and mobile banking, and more convenience with more branches nationwide.

After the merger, the MUFG strategy in the U.S. will be to focus on corporate investment banking.

“It’s a business we also do globally in all relevant markets and of course the U.S. is a very important geography for that global corporate investment wholesale banking. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to help clients grow, help the economy grow, create jobs in that segment,” Koshi said.

“We feel good that it’s a reset to focus on wholesale banking but we do it well, to focus on that to be a gross driver for MUFG. We also will be partnering with U.S. Bank for the business we sold. There will be a commercial agreement, strategic alliance, that is being discussed and negotiated (and) should be finalized before the closing that will allow U.S. Bank and MUFG to collaborate in key markets, including the Japanese market.”

When the merger was first announced, Rev. Brian Kensho Nagata from the Buddhist Church of Oakland shared his appreciation in a story for Wheel of Dharma, the Buddhist Churches of America newspaper, that spoke of an ending to that relationship between Union Bank and the Japanese community.

“They supported temple new year and year-end parties, kenjinkai picnics, cultural events, community projects and activities. Who doesn’t remember the beautiful program covers, wall calendars, the printing of countless raffle tickets, matchbooks, key fobs, pens, golf balls and the large clocks with the bank logos that temples always placed in our social halls?” he wrote in the article.

Koshi emphasized that this wasn’t the end, rather the beginning of a new chapter, a message he also shared with BCA Bishop Marvin Harada.

“I told him that this movie doesn’t end. I can say it is Chapter 1, and next is Chapter 2,” Koshi said.

“Maybe you’ve seen other movies where the Japanese banks left and the movie ended, fini. This movie should have Chapter 2. Where MUFG-U.S. Bank form a partnership that continues to support the community.”

He cited his sempai who have served with MUFG and also been supportive of the Japanese and Japanese American communities through participation with organizations such as JANM, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and the U.S.-Japan Council.

“I see it as part of my job to be a steward of that long-term relationship. I happen to be in this seat now, so it’s my accountability to build on that foundation and pass it on to my successors in a strong fashion,” Koshi said.

“I don’t mean to take any personal credit for the relationships we have with the organizations. It’s an outcome of multiple decades and generations of great sempai investing in this relationship.”

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