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Commercial banks' competition to attract foreign customers intensifies

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A pedestrian passes by ATMs in Seoul. Newsis

A pedestrian passes by ATMs in Seoul. Newsis

Korea's major banks launch tailored services for foreign residents
By Anna J. Park

With the foreign population in Korea growing rapidly, competition is intensifying among major commercial banks to attract foreign customers, each bolstering services for this previously marginalized group.

According to the banking industry on Thursday, the number of new foreign customers at the five major commercial banks, KB Kookmin, Shinhan, Hana, Woori and NH NongHyup, totaled 382,241 as of the end of last year, rising about 18 percent from 312,019 in 2022.

Among the five banks, Hana Bank stands at the forefront with about 170,000 newly joining foreign customers, or nearly half of the new foreign customers at the banks in Korea.

The reason behind Hana's preponderance is its accumulated global business acumen rooted in the Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), which Hana merged with in 2015. In 2021, Hana Bank became the first in the domestic banking sector to offer exclusively online account opening services for foreign residents in the country.

Starting this year, the lender also began providing financial authentication services in 16 languages, including English, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Sinhalese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Bengali. In addition, the bank operates 16 specialized branches for foreign workers in the country, operating even on Sundays.

"As a leading bank with expertise in foreign exchanges in Korea, Hana Bank will make every effort to ensure that foreign customers can use financial services in Korea more conveniently and safely," an official from Hana Bank said.

Shinhan Bank is also focused on launching tailored services targeting foreign customers.

The bank has become the first domestic commercial bank to issue debit cards to foreign residents in Korea solely online.

While Hana Bank and KB Kookmin Bank have previously allowed foreign residents in the country to open accounts exclusively online, Shinhan is the first commercial banks to make debit card issuance possible through online methods.

Shinhan Bank's new service is available to foreign customers aged 17 and above who possess domestic identification such as a alien registration card. The introduction of the mobile issuance service for debit cards was made possible by the bank's foreign identity verification system. This system ensures real-time verification of domestic-issued foreign ID cards.

Foreign customers requiring a taxpayer identification number or individuals from countries designated as high-risk by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are excluded from the service.

"Shinhan hopes to contribute to foreign residents' daily lives by offering easier and more convenient financial services," an official from Shinhan Bank said.

Woori Bank is also preparing to introduce exclusively online account opening services for foreign customers, aiming to start this service as early as the first half of next year.

The bank has already been offering a special service for foreign customers, including multilingual services. Since 2022, five Woori Bank branches located in cities such as Ansan and Uijeongbu have been opening on Sundays for foreign customers residing in Korea who find it difficult to visit banks during weekdays.

The bank also launched its Woori WON Global mobile banking service late last year, supporting 17 languages — Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Thai, Indonesian, Russian, Cambodian, Filipino, Uzbek, Sinhalese, Bengali, Pashto, Nepali and Burmese — to offer financial transactions for foreign customers residing in the country.

Meanwhile, KB Kookmin Bank also plans to offer online account opening services for foreign residents by the end of this year.

In February this year, the bank also rolled out a service designed to ensure the protection of severance pay for foreign workers returning to their home countries after completing their stay in Korea. Foreign workers can apply for this service at KB Kookmin Bank's Incheon International Airport branch to either directly receive their severance pay at the airport or receive a wire transfer to their overseas account within 14 days after departure.

Park Ji-won


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