The Korea Herald is publishing a series of interviews on promising startups in the financial technology industry. This is the 14th installment. - Ed.
The advent of financial technology has minimized a South Korean smartphone user’s effort to manually collect personal information registered across the Web when submitting filings needed to buy a financial product online.
Upon agreement by a user who logged on to a financial company‘s website, his or her set of private information from public databases -- related to income, tax invoices, business registration, insurance premium invoices, health condition and pension plan -- are automatically provided to a financial company selling the product, without his or her visit to a brick-and-mortar branch.
On the other hand, data from financial companies are extracted and aggregated for fledging personal financial management service provider startups or insurance technology startups in Korea.
As a result, financial customers can figure out the volume of their total assets scattered in multiple accounts or compare one product to another.
Behind such leading-edge advances in the use of confidential information for safe financial application is a web scraping technology.
Heenam CEO Kim Dea-hee (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Kim Dea-hee, chief executive of web scraping software provider startup Heenam, said local financial companies’ customer-centric approach through the fintech development laid a groundwork for his business.
“The technology in the contemporary days gave birth to a service that I had never imagined would exist in the past,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
While scraping technology -- limited to screen scraping – existed since the late 1990s, it was hardly applicable due to its innate technical flaws and lack of fintech development here.
The screen scraping technology evolved into web scraping ones amid a shift in personal devices from computer to mobile phones.
But to this day, information harvested through the technology has suffered from infrequent inaccuracy. Also, private information was left susceptible to leaks, because the sensitive information was stashed on their server where the scraping software is installed.
Founded in 2009, Heenam was the first fintech startup in Korea that strived to avoid such technical glitches and keep pace with blooming fintech development in Korea, through its signature scraper software E-Spider launched in 2015.
“The scraping technology now is completely different from what it used to be in the past,” Kim said. “We have addressed nearly all shortcomings of the technology that existed in the past.”
E-Spider adopted a client-side scraping technology for the first time in Korea. The new technology allows information to be scraped with heightened security and free of internet protocol block, Kim said, because the personal data can be stored in a personal device instead of a company’s server, while a module from the target of data extraction will be constantly updated.
“I had a chance to discuss partnership with a local insurer‘s official who was skeptical about the scraping technology, because he had experience working on it,” he said.
“But it was rather easy to persuade the counterpart in the negotiation, because E-Spider’s technology was able to tackle what the official was worried about.”
Since sealing the first contract with Woori Bank in November 2015, Heenam has partnered with 19 banks, 14 card companies, 42 insurance firms and fintech startups. They are provided with data extracted from administration services run by government agencies, such as the National Tax Service, the National Pension Service, the National Health Insurance Service and the Supreme Court.
An interior view of Heenam office in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Data aggregator companies like Heenam are facing a new wave of challenges here amid change in business environment.
Korea‘s financial authorities have encouraged financial companies to have their respective application programming interface publicly available for developers by the second half of this year.
There were growing speculations that the introduction of open-API friendly policy will put an end to scraping technologies in Korea.
Calling the shift inevitable, Kim said banks would not be able to make APIs open to the public all at once in the near future.
“The data collected from open APIs would be more accurate than those from web scrapers, but if such delays in adoption happens, there will be no other alternative than web scrapers,” he said, adding it would take at least 10 years for all financial companies to open-source their programming interface -- enough for Heenam to brace for the change.
During the interview, Kim said Heenam has looked to establishing a global network of financial consumers and companies. The start of it was a business cooperation with Vietnamese financial management service provider Finsify Technology Company in 2017, Kim said.
By Son Ji-hyoung