Bank heads build linguistic bridges

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Bank heads build linguistic bridges

More foreign bankers are striving to learn Korean to highlight their commitment to the increasingly important domestic market, while local bankers are holding investor relations presentations in English as part of a broader move to raise their stock value.

Standard Chartered clients were impressed last week when CEO Richard Hill greeted them in their native language and proceeded to give a five-minute speech to reporters in Korean on the bank’s official name change.

“Hill has made greetings in Korean before, but this is the first time he has made such a long speech in the language,” said an employee at Standard Chartered Korea.

In response, former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, a director of the bank, said he plans to follow suit by issuing his statement in English.

Although Hill’s statement was scripted and he later fell back into answering questions in English, it is significant that he has been learning the language since arriving in the country two years ago.

“Through such efforts, he wants to show Standard Chartered’s dedication and devotion to doing business in Korea,” said the official. Speculation has abounded in recent years that the bank was planning to pull out of the country after mining its wealth.

Meanwhile, heads of Korean financial groups have been holding investor relations presentations in English - one even earned the nickname “Mr. Global” for his gung-ho approach.

The executive, KB Financial Group Chairman Euh Yoon-dae, made several trips abroad last year and held presentations in English without a translator to cement ties with foreign investors, according to an employee from the company.

A former scholar, Euh has made a point of stressing the importance of communicating in foreign languages to smooth international business operations. He got his doctoral degree in business management at the University of Michigan, in the United States, and led a presidential council on nation branding before joining KB.

Euh insists the financial group’s stock value will see dramatic improvement when its messages and goals are more clearly understood by foreign investors.

“Since last year, we have been holding separate job interviews for applicants who grew up abroad,” said a group official. “The chairman believes that communicating well means understanding the culture, not just speaking the language.”

Euh is not the only banker to emphasize the boons of foreign-language communication in terms of courting investors.

Hana Financial Group Chairman Kim Seung-yu is also said to enjoy dealing with overseas investors in English as he has an MBA from the University of Southern California. And Yun Yong-ro, the vice chairman of global strategy for Hana Financial Group, is also known to be fluent in English - a skill he regularly draws on at work.

Never has such a premium been placed on communicating in English and other major foreign languages in Korea as it is today, when foreign investors make up a substantial portion of the domestic financial industry.

Foreign investors hold a combined stake of over 60 percent in each of Hana Financial Group, KB Financial Group and Shinhan Financial Group.

By Lee Ho-jeong []

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