By Lee Kyung-min
Korean banks are beefing up their services for foreign residents here in a bid to build a new customer base amid rapid saturation of the domestic financial market.
They see the expat banking market as a blue ocean because the number of foreigners in Korea has been increasing steadily over the past few years.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of foreigners in Korea is well over 2.3 million as of July 2018, a near three-fold increase from about a decade ago.
The number was 747,000 in 2005 and first surpassed 1 million in 2007. The number is expected to reach 3 million accounting for 5.8 percent of the country's population in 2021.
To attract more foreign customers, they are offering multiple foreign language services while opening desks exclusively for expats at some branches where many foreign workers reside.
The state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) said its webpage is undergoing an upgrade to set up more bulletin boards to promote new financial products and share up-to-date information, as part of its efforts to strengthen online platform.
The bank will consider increasing available foreign languages to up to 10 from the current four ― English, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian.
A special unit established in 2016 under the state lender is continuing efforts to strive for customer satisfaction including regular visits to foreign customers at their work to offer consultations on online banking services and help with foreign currency remittance.
The service has been well received by many full-time workers for whom finding the time to go to bank during working hours proves difficult, the bank said.
KB Kookmin Bank offers KB One Asia, an overseas cash wire service within 24 hours with only a 1,000 won ($0.88) fee.
The popular service is available through the bank's global network in 18 countries.
KB conducts foreign currency transactions in 144 countries. Its currency remittance service is available in 200 countries.
The bank launched KB Account Free, a cash wire service without a bank account, to better tend to the needs of people whose home country has limited to no financial infrastructure to send and receive money through banking systems.
The service, available in 26 regions in nine countries, enables people in one of those countries to receive money by confirming a code only given to the sender in Korea. Funds wired are not paid in cash unless verification is complete, the bank said.
Real-time information on wire transfer status is possible with the bank's Swift Global Payments Innovation (GPI) service launched in June 2018.
KB said the foreigner-targeted measures will be strengthened amid growing number of service users.
It engaged in 200,693 foreign currency remittance transactions totaling $635 million (723 billion won) in September 2018.
The number of transactions and amount transferred increased by 4.1 percent and 6.2 percent from a year earlier, respectively.
"The number of foreigners is expected to increase up to 5 million over the next decade, a reason why we deem them our new, significant customers," a KB official said.
"We will continue to provide our customers here with quality services including foreign currency remittance via close cooperation with the bank-affiliated entities overseas," she added.
In March, Shinhan Bank opened a "Sunday Foreign Currency Center," in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, where a large number of foreign workers live.
The branch opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. On Sunday, it opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m.
Consultations will be available in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Russian there. Various bank charges will be exempt for foreigners. Korean learning programs and other cultural activities will be offered on the fourth floor of the branch building.
KB operates similar centers in seven regions including five in Gyeonggi Province, and one each in Seoul and Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province.
In March, Woori Bank singed an MOU with Talking Korea, an education business that organizes mock exams for the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK), a Korean language test for nonnative speakers of Korean.
The two agreed to seek cooperation in developing a Korean-language education models for foreigners to help boost their financial knowledge
Marketing strategies for foreigners will seek to increase their "brand loyalty," according to a Woori Bank official.
"Once we establish ourselves as a customer-friendly, reliable provider of banking services, a large number of foreigners will likely maintain a relationship with us and possible recommend us to their acquaintances, a great way for us to expand our presence both here and overseas," he said.