Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – A New Documentary

By: Sharon J. Lorman
Jeffrey P. Marsico
George W. Millward

Join us for a conversation with Jill Sung, Abacus Bank President and CEO, and Vera Sung, Director and Closing Attorney at Abacus
Guests: Jill Sung, President and CEO, Abacus Bank; Vera Sung, Attorney and Director of Abacus Bank

Podcast Show Notes:

Our This Month In Banking (TMIB) podcast features discussion with colleagues and other industry thought leaders on interesting banking news that happened this month. TMIB will be available on the last Wednesday of every month here, and on Apple and Droid podcast apps for your listening enjoyment. Join us on your commute or at your desk.
Join us for a conversation with Jill and Vera Sung, and don’t miss this documentary from acclaimed director Steve James, known for Hoop Dreams (1994), Life Itself (2014) and Stevie (2002). Abacus: Small Enough to Jail was broadcast nationally on PBS Frontline on September 12, 2017 and is available for online streaming (see link below).
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Documentary
Abacus Federal Savings Bank (“Abacus”) is a small ($267.6 million in assets as of June 30, 2017), family-owned and community-focused bank in New York’s Chinatown. Thomas Sung, a Chinese American, founded the Bank in Chinatown in 1984 to serve and benefit immigrants and local residents of lower Manhattan, primarily the Chinese-American community. Since inception, Abacus has played an important role in the community, including providing credit to Chinese immigrants. The Bank serves the unique needs of the community, including serving people who have little experience with the banking system. An example is that the Bank services over 5,000 passbook savings accounts (mainly for the elderly and first-generation immigrants). Abacus is Mr. Sung’s legacy which he has entrusted to his daughters. Of his four daughters, three are attorneys and one is a physician. One of the attorneys, Jill, is the Bank’s president and CEO, and another, Vera, is a director and the Bank’s closing attorney.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Abacus was the only bank to face criminal charges for mortgage fraud. In May 2012, New York prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office indicted the Bank and 19 of its employees on charges of fraud in relation to mortgages that had been sold to Fannie Mae between 2005 and 2010. The charges included residential-mortgage fraud, falsification of business records, and conspiracy. The Manhattan District Attorney (“DA”), Cyrus Vance Jr., wanted the Bank to plead guilty to felony charges and pay a fine. The DA did not give the Sung family the option to reach a civil settlement and pay a fine which was the type of deal offered to big banks that sold toxic home loan portfolios to investors. While some of those banks were deemed too big to fail, Abacus Bank was “small enough to jail.” Since the Sung family felt that the Bank was not guilty, they made the decision to plead not guilty and to fight the indictment in court. It was a courageous and expensive choice. The film not only chronicles the trial and outcome but also gives a very personal, and sometimes humorous, look at the Sung family including the interaction between family members that showed their closeness, loyalty and deep respect for one another.

Watch for episode 23 of This Month in Banking to be released on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 and a new episode on the last Wednesday of every month.

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