List of potential buyers is starting to take shape

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List of potential buyers is starting to take shape

With the direction of the government’s privatization of Woori Financial Group becoming more concrete, the focus is turning to possible buyers.

Last week, Financial Services Commission Chairman Shin Je-yoon said the government was considering whether to sell off Woori Financial affiliates separately to try to attract more bidders.

“We will make and introduce products [sales] that the market wants,” Shin said. “Our focus is on completing the privatization as soon as possible. If not this time, we will never ever be able to privatize [Woori Financial].”

Even before the government’s final announcement later this month of details and conditions for the sale, potential bidders have directly and indirectly expressed interest. If the affiliates of Woori Financial Group are sold separately, three potential bidders have shown interest in purchasing Woori Bank, the group’s largest asset-holding affiliate. Market analysts note that the highlight of Woori Financial Group sale will be Woori Bank, which has 247 trillion won in assets.

A recent JoongAng Ilbo report quoted Shin as saying that “according to research by the sale adviser, there are at least three bidders even now that have expressed hope to purchase Woori Bank.”

“We will make Woori Bank attractive for bidders so that there is heated competition,” Shin said.

Apart from Woori Bank, Woori Securities and Investment is considered a hot item as many financial institutions lack nonbanking businesses. Speculation has centered on KB Financial Group as a top bidder for Woori, especially its securities arm. KB Financial is the country’s fourth-largest financial holding company and a majority of its businesses are focused on the banking sector.

KB Financial wanted to purchase Woori Financial when the previous government put it up for sale, but pulled out at the last minute amid concerns by its labor union about the creation of a mega-bank.

KB Financial has not revealed it intentions.

“Speculation that we’re interested in buying Woori is just that - mere speculation,” said an official from KB Financial. “Currently, we’re in the process of naming a new chairman and no decision on the Woori issue has been made.”

The Korean Federation of Community Credit Cooperatives, on the other hand, is more overt.

“Once the privatization process of Woori Financial officially begins, we will participate in the bidding process after looking over the conditions,” said Kim Sung-sam, representative director of the federation’s credit and insurance business. The federation was also one of the bidders for Woori in 2011 and 2012.


By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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