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Korean banks brace for India’s COVID crisis

Along with Myanmar’s military coup, banks’ overseas expansion faces yet another major hurdle in India

Employees at one of Shinhan Bank's branch in India hold up gifts from Korea sent by CEO Jin Ok-dong in August 2020. (Shinhan Bank)
Employees at one of Shinhan Bank's branch in India hold up gifts from Korea sent by CEO Jin Ok-dong in August 2020. (Shinhan Bank)
South Korean banks have launched emergency safety measures for their businesses in India, as the country grapples with the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.

The spiking coronavirus infections and deaths in the world’s second-most populous nation has set yet another major hurdle for the banks’ overseas expansion goals, after Myanmar’s military coup put a damper on their plans.

According to the watchdog Financial Supervisory Service, a total of eight banks have entered the Indian market as of end-2020, operating a combined 13 branches and three offices there.

Shinhan Bank, which has the largest business network in India among the eight lenders, with six branches and 320 employees, has been requesting families of dispatched Korean employees to return home.

They have also shifted to remote working and have scaled back operations at its businesses in the Maharashtra area -- branches in Mumbai and Pune -- with only 15 percent of the workforce at each branch, upon the request of the state government.

“We have yet to review the return of the Korean employees dispatched there, but operating the business with the safety of our employees is our foremost concern,” a Shinhan Bank employee said.

“Family members of the Korean employees are returning home and we have sent face masks, testing kits and food to support both our Korean and Indian employees there,” the employee added.

Another major commercial bank here, Hana Bank has been providing vaccination fees for its employees in the two branches there. It said that most of its employees have been working from home, with only a few stationed at brick-and-mortar branches.

Woori Bank, which operates three branches in India with nine Korean and 33 Indian employees, have cut short business hours -- from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- and ordered remote working for part of the workforce.

KB Kookmin Bank, which has one branch there and NH NongHyup Bank which operates an office in New Delhi, have asked its employees to work at home and said they have been monitoring the situation closely.

Alongside Vietnam and Myanmar, India is a key overseas market for Korean banks with its rapidly developing economy and large population. However, the lenders have had to take a step back with their plans in Myanmar, with the military coup forcing them to bring back their Korean employees in the ASEAN nation and operate their businesses at a minimal level.

KB launched a special center focused on its loan reviews in the Indian and ASEAN market in April and NH NongHyup has been preparing to launch another branch in India’s planned city of Noida. The agricultural bank has filed for permission to India’s central bank in June last year and plans to receive a response by the end of the year.

As of Monday, India’s health authorities reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths, taking India’s infection tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.

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