Good job? Don’t bank on it

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Good job? Don’t bank on it

A job seeker would have to vie against 100 others for each opening at a bank these days. Considering the applicant-to-job ratio is 20:1 at the country’s top conglomerate, Samsung, we can get a good idea of the popularity of banks among job seekers. Bank positions offer good salaries, rich welfare benefits and security.

But the attractions could be misleading. The fact that jobs are secure means there is no worry about banks going down. When banks are in trouble, the government steps in to inject public funds or merge them with stronger counterparts. When profits come in, employees are rewarded with fat bonuses. When they shake, there is no worry because the government will bail them out. They are entities where privatization of profits and socialization of costs are practiced.

However, one must not be too confident. Once household bank names - Chohung, Hanil, Korea First, Commercial Bank and Seoul Bank - are no more. Banks fell one by one during the Asian financial crisis in late 1990s. When one sees the tearful farewell video left by employees of Korea First who lost their jobs en masse, the word “job security” hardly applies to bank positions. If one seeks a job for life, one should apply for the public sector.

Anyone who is ambitious to move up the ranks is also advised not to apply for the banking sector. Capacity and talent does not ensure an executive position. The chief executive and chairman’s positions are reserved for those with connections to the political bigwigs. The ones bold enough to challenge parachute landings will find themselves out of work. There is a saying among journalists that a business reporter writes about the appointment of bank presidents and the social desk reporter on their retirement or dismissal, because they usually go out dishonorably to prison. It is best to hush up and ready a welcome ceremony when there are parachute landings. It is how bank executives survive until their retirement.

When governments change, so do banks’ lending guidelines. Banks have to tailor cheap loans to pitch the government’s new policies. Five years ago, they were called “green growth” loans. These days, the name has changed to “creative growth” loans. The title will likely change five years from now.

Sales targets somehow must be met. Accountability is severe if clients are lost. Salespersons must require borrowers to maintain a non-interest-bearing deposit in return for a loan. Customers should be coaxed to get a credit card, buy insurance and even open a mutual fund account. But discretion is essential. JP Morgan Chase reached a record $13 billion settlement over its mortgage practices. Of course, local authorities are not that harsh. The Financial Services Commission and Financial Supervisory Service are all too busy fighting among themselves over authority and blaming one another for any faults.

Veterans will teach novices the knack of lending umbrellas in fair weather and asking for them back when it begins to rain. Bankers must be prudent with lending as they are using funds from other customers, but at the same time, they must not try to be too ruthless. Bankers must juggle discreetly between clients and corporate borrowers. The job can be very demanding and stressful. An installment of the British hit TV reality show “Top Gear” was once filmed on Bank Street in London. Financiers came crowding in to watch the shooting. The host commented that the show has interrupted the work of bankers and cried out to the audience, “Your money is safe for now.” The observation could be aimed at bankers around the world.

In any job, there must be a role model. Unfortunately, there are few that fit that description in our financial history and industry. Ra Eung-chan, former chairman of Shinhan Financial Group and the longest-serving financial CEO, was forced out for running accounts in other people’s names and chairmen of KB Financial Group all walked out dishonorably. Few have resigned or stepped down voluntarily. Their disgraceful exits are the tragedy of the Korean financial industry.

Banks should keep their eyes on the people, not the money. There was a quote in the popular Japanese TV series “Hanzawa Naoki,” which is about a bank employee’s everyday obstacles as he tries to climb his way up: “A banker should not look at the money, but the person who has the money.”

Newcomers to the banking industry who survived heavy competition should strive to become role models for future bankers by setting their eyes on the people and not the money.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Nahm Yoon-ho
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