[Letter to the editor]Adventures in domestic credit cardsLike many long-term “foreigners” (don’t we all hate that word) here, I prefer to stay under the social radar, and when, recently, for the umpteenth time, I felt I was being unfairly treated, I decided to again let it slide. But your editorial on Jan. 30, “Foreigners deserve better,” has inspired me to stand up with an attempt to be heard.
Here are the facts: About a month ago, in my 11th consecutive year of Korean residence, I as usual applied to Kookmin Bank for an annual Visa card renewal. It’s an annual hassle because my teaching visa always expires Feb. 28, and my Visa card always expires in December of the prior year ― two months before the teaching visa. I have been a customer of the bank since 1999, beginning with Korea Housing Bank, later purchased by Kookmin.
Before Korean banks began issuing credit cards in bulk ― even to children with no assets or income ― after the so-called “IMF” crisis, I was able to secure credit cards. Not surprising, I thought, since I was employed by a university, hold four university degrees (including a law degree and a Ph.D. from the University of California) and, most importantly, I thought, had substantial savings accounts in Korean banks.
For several years, Kookmin allowed me a cash advance limit of 5 million won, but in the past few years, that limit has been gradually lowered. About a month ago, they issued my latest Visa card with only a 300,000-won cash advance limit ― less than a day’s stay in a quality hotel. When I complained, I was told I could re-apply for a higher limit later, after the bank had some experience with me. Huh?
Although my credit and social history were well-known to the VIP manager of the branch, he had ― for some reason, not speaking his usual English and with hand-gestures and pointing ― taken me from his desk, through the coffee room, downstairs to an employee who spoke no English. When she was unable to explain some part of the new card details, she took me to another manager, who in turn sat me in front of another employee who did her best to finish the card issuance. It was here that I discovered the cash limit reduction. That was on a Friday.
The following Monday, with the low-limit card in my hand, and what I thought was an empty promise from the issuing bank employee to call Kookmin’s credit card center to try and raise the limit, I decided to apply at another bank for a cash limit comparison. What had taken me three weeks and two follow-up visits at Kookmin took only three hours total at Korea Exchange Bank, and the new card had a 900,000-won cash advance limit.
This story is only part of a longer story with Kookmin Bank. Two years ago I decided to buy an apartment in Korea. I had been looking for many years, and finally found a suitable place in Chunchon. Unfortunately, I had to pay cash for the place, as Kookmin Bank refused to grant me a mortgage loan. It was more than a little irritating, as I had always maintained many millions of won in savings at the bank and am now entering my seventh year as a Hongik University professor ― and have perfect credit with several other Korean banks.
On Jan. 22, the JoongAng Daily published an article, “Kookmin’s Kang says KEB won’t be sold in 2007,” where Mr. Kang was quoted: “Last year, Kookmin’s focus remained on risk management . . . for 2007 we’ve set our goals higher . . . we will extend credit-based loans to self-employed people with poor credit ratings ― even those who have taken out money from private lenders [‘loan sharks’] will become Kookmin consumers.”
Well, that was enough for my probably over-conservative money-brain. Two days ago I went to Kookmin to close my savings accounts, but nice things happened. The foreign exchange manager, with whom I do business every month, afterwards took me to the VIP manager’s secretary, and she in turn called up the original “I promise I will call the card center” woman. Between the two of them, I was told my last year’s Visa card cash advance limit of 1,500,000 won had been reinstated, and they had extended the expiration date to January from December ― so now I will have another whole month of year-end Visa/visa renewal issues. Their smiles and help convinced me not to cancel my accounts with their bank.
The story has a happy ending, but with respect to credit card expiration dates, I still can’t help wondering why, in contrast to Kookmin’s January 2008 expiration date, the new KEB Visa card has a December 2008 expiration; why Shinhan Bank gave me a 2009 expiration (got it in 2004, a five-year issuance), and why my two Visas at Hana Bank have 2011 for expiration dates.
Grant Carner, a professor at Hongik University, Seoul