Woori Bank head unveils new plans

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Woori Bank head unveils new plans

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Lee Kwang-goo

Lee Kwang-goo, the new president and CEO of Woori Bank, pledged on Tuesday to complete the bank’s privatization, in line with government plans, within his term.

“My foremost mission is to find an owner of the bank in a way that the government has judged as the best and right,” Lee said at a press conference following his inauguration at the bank’s headquarters in central Seoul.

The plan to privatize Woori Bank has faced major setbacks since its inception, and the bank has so far failed to attract majority or minority investors at the government’s set price.

Lee, who is rumored to be a revolving-door appointment - in which people with political connections to the president or ruling party are tasked to head corporations - has received criticism for being a member of what is known as Seogeumhoe, a private clan of financial bigwigs who graduated from Sogang University, the alma mater of President Park Geun-hye.

Since the Park administration, several Sogang University graduates have taken top positions at major financial institutions, leading to concerns among insiders that the industry is being overrun by member of that club.

Lee dismissed worries about Seogeumhoe, however, and the government’s involvement in his nomination. “Seogeumhoe is not a powerful group. We just gather privately for meals,” he contended.

As bank president, Lee has set a goal of reaching 15 trillion won in healthy assets by the end of next year. “My principle for increasing assets is to raise consumer demand and meet their needs,” Lee said. “I won’t strategically expand loans for small businesses or households, which could possibly lead to bad debt. Given the current situation, it is not too bold a goal to achieve.”

The proportion of overseas business is also set to be expanded from the current 6 percent to 10 percent, which Lee has set as a major goal.

“It is a general trend in the financial industry that financial institutions go abroad in order to make up for falling profits in the domestic market,” Lee said. “Woori Bank will focus on the global retail business to do so. Vietnam will be the second overseas market after Indonesia, where Woori Bank is currently working.”

Like many of its counterparts, Woori Bank plans to jump into fintech, a new field that refers to technology that is applied to financial services, such as payments made via smart devices.

BY SONG SU-HYUN [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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