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[Newsmaker] Lee takes helm of Woori Financial

The new leadership of Woori Financial Group, which is expected to take the initiative in privatizing the state-funded firm, will take over in the coming weeks.

The group’s personnel affairs committee said Thursday that it nominated incumbent bank unit CEO Lee Soon-woo as the new chairman.

At a news briefing, nominee Lee clarified that he would not always adhere to the past sale project of a block deal for the taxpayers’ money-injected financial group.
Lee Soon-woo
Lee Soon-woo

He clarified that the group ― in coordination with financial regulators ― would possibly consider shifting its position to sell its subsidiaries separately.

Market insiders predicted that the sale plan on a split basis may be divided into three major parts: the sale of Woori Bank plus Woori Card, sale of the brokerage unit (Woori Investment & Securities) and sale of the two provincial banks (Kyongnam and Kwangju).

Lee has been leading the group’s flagship Woori Bank since March 2011. Born in 1950 in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, he has been working for the group for about 40 years after graduating from Sungkyunkwan University.

Market insiders suggested that the group’s recommendation committee regarded Lee as the figure who would cordially follow financial authorities’ policies over the process of the Woori privatization.

The nation’s largest financial services company has had four chairmen (outgoing chief Lee Pal-seung led the fourth and fifth management cycles) over the past 12 years since its establishment in April 2001.

In collaboration with the leaders, the government retrieved some 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) out of 12 trillion won injected to Woori Financial after the 1997 foreign exchange crisis.

“KB Kookmin Card allegedly has an eye on Woori Card in a desperate bid to narrow the market share gap with Shinhan Card and Samsung Card,” said a Woori executive.

He also noted that KB Financial Group and its credit card unit are also mentioned as the most powerful contender among market participants in the coming bidding for Woori Financial.

Another official predicted that the key issue would be severe backlash from unionized workers at Woori Bank under the scenario of an acquisition by KB Financial.

“The scenario is still feasible. If realized, an unprecedented manpower restructuring of bank employees would be inevitable,” he said.

By Kim Yon-se (