Shinhan group gears up for succession battle

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Shinhan group gears up for succession battle

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Shinhan Card CEO Wi Sung-ho has been granted another year in his tenure, Shinhan Financial Group said Thursday, raising speculation that the card affiliate executive could be a strong contender for the group’s top post after Han Dong-soo steps down as chairman next year.

The extension of Wi’s tenure at Shinhan Card is seen as approval of his management of the company, which has experienced solid growth in the credit card industry ever since adopting big data in its operations. Shinhan Card is now the market leader, excluding exclusive credit card issuers like Samsung Card and Hyundai Card.

Wi, a former vice president at Shinhan Financial Group, took up the position of Shinhan Card CEO in 2013 under a two-year term. It was extended to a third year last September.

Now that Wi has been granted a fourth year as head of Shinhan Card, speculation is growing that he has a good chance at becoming chairman of Shinhan Financial Group. The incumbent chairman, Han, expressed his intent to comply with Shinhan’s in-house rule that limits top management positions to people under the age of 70. Han is currently 68, and his tenure is scheduled to end next year.

Industry insiders believe the process of selecting Han’s successor will begin in November, and a name may be announced by the end of January, in time for the nominee to be approved at Shinhan’s shareholders meeting.

Under in-house rules, all current and former CEOs of the group’s affiliates are automatically registered as candidates for the chairmanship.

Shinhan Card CEO Wi is currently considered a strong one, and his likely rival to beat is Cho Yong-byoung, CEO of the group’s flagship Shinhan Bank.

The two competed last year for the position of Shinhan Bank CEO, which Cho won. At the time, though, industry experts projected that Wi would likely take the position, as he was considered a close confidant of Ra Eung-chan, a former Shinhan Financial Group chairman.

In 2010, when Wi was vice president at the group, he assisted Ra in appeasing shareholders during a management control dispute against Shin Sang-hoon, the president of Shinhan Financial Group at the time.

The crisis left a huge scar on the group and led to the ousting of all three top-level executives, including Ra, Shin and Lee Baek-soon, then the president of Shinhan Bank, who sided with Chairman Ra.

During the dispute, Cho took a neutral position, and when he was selected to his current position as Shinhan Bank CEO last year, there was speculation that it was a move to end the ongoing conflict between supporters of Ra and Shin.

Cho is considered a stronger competitor against Wi. Even under unfavorable economic conditions and low interest rates, Shinhan Bank under his leadership has performed better than many of its rivals. Net profit in the first half of 2016 grew 13.3 percent year on year to 1.45 trillion won ($1.3 billion).


BY LEE HO-JEONG, HAN AE-RAN [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]


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