Banks consider extending hours

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Banks consider extending hours

Korea’s banks are considering extending their branches’ hours in response to Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan’s criticism that they close earlier than their international competitors.

Local banks mostly open at 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. - earlier than international standards, Choi recently said, leading Korean banks to lag behind in global competitiveness.

“Bankers receive multimillion-dollar salaries once they get a job,” Choi told reporters in Peru on the sidelines of the G-20 Finance Ministers’ meeting last Saturday. “There’s no country on Earth where finance closes at 4 p.m.”

His remark rattled the entire banking industry. The first banker that officially responded to his comment was KEB Hana Financial Group Chairman Kim Jung-tai. At the group’s event on Tuesday, Kim told reporters, “Banks can open after 4 p.m., if it is convenient for customers.”

Some banks have also started discussing extending working hours. KB Kookmin Bank, the country’s largest player by number of branches, is reviewing a plan to launch more “special branches” with flexible or longer opening hours.

“We already have 12 special branches, such as the one in Ansan, Gyeonggi, targeting foreign workers there,” a KB Kookmin Bank employee said by phone.

Woori Bank will also make a decision on increasing the number of its “flexible branches,” a spokesperson for the bank said by phone.

“We have a total of 54 flexible branches, such as those launched inside government organizations, which close at 6 p.m.,” the spokesperson said.

But it’s not easy to extend working hours at all branches, bankers said, as demand for evening hours is not guaranteed and necessitates a revamping of the entire electronic trading system.

“We opened a branch in the Seolleung [Gangnam District] area in 2013 because it has one of the highest densities of workers,” the Woori spokesman said.

“But we closed it after just a year because there weren’t as many visitors as expected, and many people just use online banking services.”

Shinhan Bank said it even has no plan to follow Choi’s call because it has plenty of branches with flexible opening hours.

“We already have about 70 branches with long opening hours, up to 10 p.m.,” a banker from Shinhan Bank said. “We understood the finance minister wanted to increase the number of flexible-hour banks, not extending working hours for entire branches.”

Bankers also said it was absurd to say Korean banks were lacking in competitiveness because many bankers work past closing hours.

“Bankers in charge of household debt usually stay late at night,” a banker said by phone. “Even though the branch closes at 4 p.m., they should work until 11 p.m.”

Meanwhile, banking shares traded firm on Friday, as the Bank of Korea’s decision to keep the key rate steady buoyed expectations that growth in interest-related income would be sustained.

Shares for KB Financial Group ended up 0.43 percent, and Hana Financial Group rose 0.9 percent, outperforming the benchmark Kospi index that ended down 0.15 percent. Shinhan Financial Group shares also gained 0.83 percent.

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