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From bees to polar bears, Korean banks' love of animated characters

By Im Eun-byel

Published : Feb. 6, 2024 - 16:22

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Top financial groups here have put forward animated characters as their faces in a bid to woo a wider range of customers.

Woori Financial Group has recently brought back its band of animated characters, WiBee Friends, pulling them out of a six-year hiatus. Woori Bank CEO Cho Byung-kyu pushed for the return of the characters, seeing the need to appeal to customers with a softer, friendlier image, according to the firm.

With Woori jumping on the bandwagon, all four of Korea’s top financial groups -- KB Kookmin, Shinhan, Hana and Woori -- now have animated characters representing their brands.

The characters are plastered on the platforms provided by the banks, including mobile apps and web pages. Furthermore, they are developed into merchandised goods such as calendars and cups. Some even roll out financial services directly associated with the characters, printing the characters on bankbooks and payment cards.

Yet the finance firms' animated character business is heavily regulated. The current Banking Act requires banks to file a report with the Financial Services Commission to be engaged in all services incidental to banking services. Though some banks have earned licenses for the characters, monetization remains a challenge.

Woori's WiBee Friends

Woori’s WiBee Friends made a comeback through an event held by the finance group on Jan. 27. The animated characters were first launched in 2015. But the band later went out of service in 2019 as Woori Bank’s mobile service transitioned into another app.

This time, the characters have returned as a K-pop band, representing not just the bank, but the entire financial firm. The pack is led by WiBee, which is -- as shown through its name -- a bee. It also has a new member, an Asiatic black bear named Pudding.

“As WiBee who is shaped like a roly-poly that can quickly rebound after a fall, we will lead the momentum in which Woori Bank can become the leading lender in 2024,” Cho said at January’s event.

KB's Star Friends

KB Financial’s Star Friends are modeled after a rabbit, a duck, a bear, a lama and a stem of broccoli, each named Kiki, Akeo, Bibi, Lamu and Coli. They are space creatures who have met each other on Earth, according to the firm.

The finance group first introduced the characters in October 2020, and has since expanded its customer base through online campaigns. Bringing the content offline, it even arranged an exhibition of the Star Friends characters, showcasing artworks inspired by them.

Shinhan's Friends

A polar bear named Sol is the face of Shinhan Financial Group. Other characters are shaped after a wide variety of animals, ranging from a raccoon to a penguin.

Sol is a space travel writer living on the North Star. One day, Sol decided to visit Earth and made friends with cafe owner Moli, artist Rino, digital creator Shoo, three-piece rock band Do Re Mi, twin surfers Lulu Lala, guide Pli and hip-hop producer Lay, the firm explained.

Hana's Family

Hana’s star-shaped characters each represent the financial group’s subsidiaries. from an insurer to a lender to a brokerage house.

The characters are originally from a faraway star named Makarios. They accidentally landed on Earth and while striving to go home. They have learned to understand humans, according to the firm’s explanation.

Toss' Catch

Fintech app Toss introduced yellow puffy chick character Catch in 2022. The name Catch is the result of a customer survey, and implies that customers can "catch" needed financial information through Toss.

Toss has been proactive in its animated character business, rolling out merchandised goods inspired by Catch. The goods sold out when first released last October.

Similar to how local internet lender Kakao Bank under tech giant Kakao was successful in attracting customers from its launch with the highly popular character lineup Kakao Friends, Toss aims to attract new customers to its financial services with Catch.