Working for a bank isn’t as sweet as it seems

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Working for a bank isn’t as sweet as it seems


A bank employee works at NH Nonghyup Bank’s headquarters in central Seoul. [JOONGANG ILBO]

Last year, 119 people applied for every job opening at the Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK). Many Koreans think that working for a bank is a lucrative and stable job.

But Oxford University and Deloitte predict that the chance of bank clerks being replaced by robots in 20 years is around 96 percent. Korean financial institutions are cutting their branches and attempting to find new business abroad and on the Internet. Stability is not guaranteed.

The JoongAng Ilbo conducted interviews with 11 people who worked for or are currently working at major financial institutions to hear what it’s like working as a retail banker.

A bank clerk we will identify as L. has been working in the industry for four years. He arrives at work at 7:30 in the morning and works until 8 p.m.

L. says that beyond the long hours, the bank has required him to persuade 100 customers to sign up for individual savings accounts (ISA).

An ISA allows customers to manage all kinds of financial accounts, ranging from regular bank savings to riskier securities accounts, in a single, comprehensive account. The government imposes no tax on up to 2.5 million won in net profit from investments made in ISAs per year.

Another bank employee is not putting newly registered customers into the system right away because he expects his bank to tell him to do more than his quota requirement later on.

Banker K, who has been in the industry for 15 years, is also being pressured to round up new customers “The bank won’t accept my family member as new customers. Some of my colleagues are going so far as to sign up newborn babies for banking services before they are even registered as family members,” he says. “That gets around the no-family rule.”

Some people in banking say they are sick of mean customers and that they would choose working longer hours in an office rather than dealing with customers.


Some complain about the wage system in local financial institutions, which is entirely based on seniority.

“You don’t get more money even if you perform very well, so it doesn’t make sense to have any initiative,” says one interview subject. “One of my co-workers who has been in his job for 20 years earns 100 million won [$87,958] a year by doing nothing, and I feel it is seriously unfair.”

One banker criticized the government’s guidelines for how banks should operate. He says he doesn’t see the point of having so many banks in Korea if the government thinks it can manage them better than professional managers.

One big distinction for the finance industry is that people tend to stay in the same bank for life rather than job-hopping. “It is more about networks that we have built for a long period time,” says one branch manager. “Banks want team players rather than star players.”

All eight people interviewed who are currently in banking said they want to work for their banks for a long time. They are paid well and the benefits are better than those offered by other industries. But they do have worries.

“Many would like to be promoted to bank manager and retire voluntarily when they reach 55 years old, but now the number of branches is shrinking and my colleagues often say that we will never have a chance to get that position in our lifetimes,” says one banker.

One bank manager added that bank tellers might exist for at least five years but that it’s unclear whether they will last forever since banks’ profits are going down and more people are using financial technology, or Fintech.

KB Kookmin Bank asked 3,244 employees to voluntarily resign in 2010, which was the largest amount for a local financial institution. The JoongAng Ilbo met with four of branch managers that voluntarily retired. They said their experience and reputation as branch managers helped them to move on to the second half of their lives.

Baek Tae-heum, a former branch manager at a local bank, is now operating a fertilizer retail shop. He had no background in farming but has been successful thanks to a marketing strategy that he learned from his experience at the bank. His competitors handed out gloves as gifts but Baek handed out heating pads in winters and face masks to block dust in springtimes.

Baek also went to a workshop of a company that does research on strawberries, and cooked food and had drinks with them. “They were surprised because other fertilizer companies just send them beer and money instead of attending, while I actually joined them,” he says. “I have done this for three years and many people started to look at me differently.”

Baek said it’s common to think that bankers are useless once they leave their banks, but that’s not true. “They are the best at managing customers,” he says.

Lee Sang-yong, a former bank branch manager, is now a CEO of a human resources firm. After retiring from the bank, Lee borrowed money to establish the company, but one of his employees purloined 200 million won from the company’s account.

“Former bankers trust others very easily and invest large amount of money without considering risks,” Lee says. “If they do that, they will not be successful in the long term.”

Lee gets commissions for workers dispatched to construction sites, and he uses networks that he built during his time at the bank. “One should consider working for others for a couple years in order to learn how a business other than a bank actually works,” Lee adds.

Jung Kun-sam has been operating a flower shop for three years, and he said he is finally making a profit. “Customers know that one dedicated a lot of time to find the best ways to wrap flowers,” he says. “People who work in banks tend to be naive and they have hard time when they come out into the real world.”

Yoo Sun-jae works as a freelancer for a dating and relationship counseling company. “There are a lot of fun things that happen outside of banks,” she says. She wanted a lifestyle that doesn’t require her to come to work every day.

Many wealthy customers think highly of her experience as a branch manager and her new job is similar to the previous one since they are both helping customers make better choices. “I am happier now,” she says, “than when I was worrying about meeting monthly and yearly goals at the bank.”


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