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[Newsmaker] Hana Financial taps man behind successful KEB merger transition as new chief

Hana Financial Group Vice Chairman Ham Young-joo (Hana Financial Group)
Hana Financial Group Vice Chairman Ham Young-joo (Hana Financial Group)
South Korea’s Hana Financial Group has nominated Vice Chairman Ham Young-joo, who led its flagship lender’s smooth operation and business rebranding after its grueling acquisition of Korea Exchange Bank seven years ago, to be the next chairman of the banking group.

On Tuesday, the firm’s chairman nomination committee tapped Ham as the sole nominee for the position, citing his performance in generating profit and bolstering stability in business. Ham has also shown “extraordinary leadership” in managing the group, and is expected to lead Hana into the future with digital transformation, the committee said in a statement.

The 66-year-old vice chief is well-known within and outside Hana as someone who climbed his way from the bottom of the ladder to the top. Ham came from extremely humble beginnings, born in 1956 in the rural South Chungcheong Province. He entered Seoul Bank -- a predecessor of Hana Bank -- in 1980 as a teller after only graduating high school.

Hoping to receive a college education, Ham enrolled in night courses as an accounting major at the College of Business & Economics at Dankook University in Seoul, and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree.

After the merger between Seoul Bank and Hana Bank in 2002, he led the sales of branches in all Chungcheong areas. The sales of Chungcheong branches ranked No. 1 among all of Hana Bank’s branches across the country under his leadership.

Ham became CEO of Hana Bank in 2015, after the bank’s acquisition of Korea Exchange Bank from US private equity Lone Star was finalized in 2015. He spent the next year merging the systems and data between the two banks. He later stepped down as CEO of the commercial lender in 2019.

From 2016, he took on the double duty as vice chairman of the bank’s holding entity Hana Financial Group, mapping out the business strategy of the firm.

Ham’s three-year term as Hana Financial Group chairman will start upon confirmation at a shareholders meeting next month. Current Chairman Kim Jung-tai is set to step down after a decade in the position.

Though the process is expected to wrap up smoothly, Ham faces hurdles in his ongoing journey to the top. The vice chairman is currently mired in two court battles.

One is with the Financial Supervisory Service to nullify a “reprimand” sanction handed by the watchdog in 2020, which held him accountable for the misselling of derivatives. Ham was CEO of the bank when the products were sold to customers. A Seoul court will announce its decision on Feb. 16.

Another is for his alleged involvement in hiring irregularities that took place during his years as Hana Bank CEO. The ruling will be made on Feb. 25.

Industry watchers expect Ham to win both legal battles, citing precedents. Shinhan Financial Group Chairman Cho Yong-byoung, who was indicted in 2018 on charges of hiring irregularities, won an appeal in November. A request by Woori Financial Group Chairman Son Tae-seung to revoke a similar FSS punishment imposed on him over the misselling of DLFs was accepted by a Seoul Court in August.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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