The Korea Herald

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Banks compete for foreign customers

From operating on a Sunday to digital certifications, lenders step up services tailored to foreign nationals

By Im Eun-byel

Published : March 26, 2024 - 15:53

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An employee serves a foreign customer at BNK Kyongnam Bank's branch located in Ulsan. (BNK Kyongnam Bank') An employee serves a foreign customer at BNK Kyongnam Bank's branch located in Ulsan. (BNK Kyongnam Bank')

Recognizing the expansion of the foreign population in Korea, banks are striving to improve access for foreign residents here by providing customized services from the point of arrival to departure.

As Foreign nationals are expected to take up a more significant portion of Korea’s demographics amid the nation's continued population decline, local lenders are looking to woo foreign customers through designated communication channels.

Korea's top four financial groups -- KB, Shinhan, Hana and Woori -- all provide customized services for foreign residents here, with separate counters, branches, or call centers.

Woori and Hana run five and 16 branches dedicated to foreigners, respectively, while some even operate on Sundays to suit the needs of foreign workers. KB has eight centers specializing in overseas transactions. Shinhan runs 10 call centers for foreign customers.

Beyond just providing designated communication channels, banks are also working to provide more differentiated services suited to foreign customers' needs.

In late February, KB Kookmin Bank rolled out a departure guarantee payment service at Incheon Airport, the country’s main gateway. Through the service, foreign workers leaving Korea can collect their departure guarantee, a type of severance pay, at the airport without having to visit a bank beforehand.

Hana Bank has been working on improving its digital banking service for foreigners, recognizing that many experience difficulties with the identification process. Earlier this month, the lender updated its Hana EZ banking app for foreign exchange transactions, allowing the issuance of digital certificates to be available in 16 different languages.

“As a leading foreign exchange bank, we will do our best to provide convenient and safe financial services for foreigners,” an official from Hana Bank said.

The number of foreign nationals residing in Korea aged 15 or over amounted to 1.43 million as of May, the highest figure since 2012, marking a 9.9 percent increase on-year, data released by Statistics Korea showed in December.

While the overall foreign population residing in Korea is increasing, the country has been seeing more foreign workers, too. The number of foreign workers here has advanced from 855,000 in 2021 to 923,000 last year. With rural areas seeing a sharper increase in foreign workers, regional lenders are also expanding services for foreign customers.

BNK Kyongnam Bank, a local lender based in the southeast of the country, announced earlier this month it will operate separate counters dedicated to foreign workers in the cities of Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, and Ulsan. Employees from multicultural families are to assist customers from currency exchange to overseas transactions.

Though many of the services offered by local lenders focus on suiting the needs of foreign workers, Hana Bank sees potential in the growth of the foreign student population.

The bank recently signed a business agreement with Hire Diversity, a platform for foreign students, agreeing to provide integrated financial services for foreign students.

The agreement comes as more international students are studying in the country each year, the lender explained.

The country saw 166,892 foreign students here in 2022, nearly doubling in a decade from 86,878 in 2012, according to the Education Ministry last year. The ministry aims to see 300,000 foreign students here by 2027.

Some banks are also keenly working on drawing foreign capital.

Woori Bank opened a new branch of the Global Investment WON Center in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on March 20. It is the second branch of the center designated to handle foreign direct investments, following the first in Gangnam, southern Seoul. The bank's CEO Cho Byung-kyu oversaw the launch of the center himself after taking office in July.

“Though the demand may not be very strong for the time being, the number of foreigners residing in Korea is continuously advancing. The local financial circle is preemptively responding to the population increase,” an official from a local finance firm said.