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[GLOBAL FINANCE AWARDS] KakaoBank CEO embraces digital wave, innovates financial services

INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR / KAKAOBANK CEO YUN HO-YOUNG

Kakaobank CEO Yun Ho-Young (Kakao Bank)
Kakaobank CEO Yun Ho-Young (Kakao Bank)
Yun Ho-young, CEO of South Korea’s largest digital-only bank, KakaoBank, has brought changes in one of the country’s most conservative industries with innovative noncontact services.

Playing a key role in leading the company’s digital banking drive, Yun has put KakaoBank in a position to receive the highest market valuation among local financial companies. Investors are keeping an eye on the CEO’s next steps toward innovation.

“From the start, KakaoBank was different from other commercial banks. Operating in off-contact only, we will become a complete ‘financial platform,’ a new sector in the country’s financial business, rather than a regular bank,” Yun said during a press conference in July.

Yun first focused on making a user-oriented app and financial products that are simple and easy to use.

With a simple user interface for the app, KakaoBank has minimized the user’s subscription process. Kakao Friends characters on debit cards have also been a big hit with those in their 20s and 30s.
Kakao Bank CEO Yun Ho-young (Kakao Bank)
Kakao Bank CEO Yun Ho-young (Kakao Bank)

The 26-week installment savings plan, one of the most popular products of KakaoBank, allows users to save a set amount of money that increases every week. Since the initial deposit is small and the deposit period is relatively short, users can save money with less pressure.

KakaoBank also provides a “gye” account service for KakaoTalk messenger users, fully taking advantage of a platform that can easily gather group members in one place.

A “gye” is a traditional form of private fund popular among Koreans in which group members chip in small monthly payments and take turns receiving a lump-sum share or use it to pay for group trips or events.

With user-friendly services, the bank secured a total of 17.4 million users in the third quarter this year. Its net profit surged on-year 96.6 percent to 167.9 billion won ($140.8 million) in the cited period as well.

In August, KakaoBank became the first digital lender in Asia to go public.

After the bank made its market debut, it became the largest financial company by market capitalization on the country’s stock market.

As of Thursday, its market cap was listed at around 30.8 trillion won at the closing bell, ranking 11th on the country’s main bourse Kospi and still first in the financial sector.

The total value of all bids placed for KakaoBank’s initial public offering came in as the second highest of the year at 2.6 trillion won, trailing only game giant Krafton, which attracted 4.3 trillion won.

Industry sources say KakaoBank’s success lies in Yun’s leadership based on a horizontal corporate culture.

In 2020, Yun introduced a team-based organizational structure that is less hierarchical and enables faster decision-making.
Kakao Bank CEO Yun Ho-young (Kakao Bank)
Kakao Bank CEO Yun Ho-young (Kakao Bank)

“KakaoBank’s core value comes from flexibility. Based on trust, we need to voice out different opinions and even clash with each other in order to solve problems quickly,” Yun said in a message he sent to staff in the same year.

Highlighting that creative ideas come from a less rigid workplace, Yun goes by the name Daniel instead of “sir,” and other staff and executives follow suit.

Yun plans to expand mid-interest loans for lenders with lower credit scores and upgrade non-face-to-face mortgage loans, market insiders said.

Yun has led KakaoBank since 2016. In March, its board decided to extend Yun’s term for another two years until 2023, his third consecutive term as CEO. Before joining KakaoBank, Yun served as the co-CEO of parent company Kakao.

By Byun Hye-jin (hyejin2@heraldcorp.com)
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