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Will 'accountability charts' root out embezzlement at banks?

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Plausible deniability no longer excuse for bank CEOs over employee misconduct
By Lee Kyung-min

Expectations are high that strengthened accountability of financial firm CEOs and executives will help eradicate embezzlement at banks, as enforced by the revised law on "accountability charts" whereby the major roles and responsibilities of managerial figures are defined, market watchers said Thursday.

Included in the chart will be specific, detailed definitions and assignments of duties, risks and penalties as well as heightened awareness.

Experts say discussions should continue to iron out potential conflicts of interest among the top decision-makers and share information to bolster efficiency.

The revision will take effect next month. The country's major financial holding firms and their bank subsidiaries will be required to submit the charts by January next year. Financial entities with smaller capital profiles will do so in stages over the next two years.

"It will be all about specificity and clarity," said Oh Tae-rog, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Finance.

A firm's CEOs and top executives remain largely unaccounted for over a series of employee misconduct cases, a longstanding problem in his view.

Embezzlement to the tune of tens of billions of won are uncovered every so often, and the news headlines repeatedly point to internal control failures.

But clearly lacking is punitive measures strong enough to prevent moral hazard, he said.

"History repeats itself as long as the figures involved are left unpunished. The success of the chart will hinge on how high the stakes will become and whether it is binding."

The prospect of a potential stint in prison will, he added, inevitably lead to tightened monitoring of irregularities and compliance standards.

"Making claims of not knowing will not be good enough of an excuse to evade dismissal or demotion," he said. "They will have to prove what prevention efforts they made."

The revision was prompted by a series of irresponsible practices rampant in the financial industry.

In 2019, investor losses tied to mis-sold derivative-linked fund products fueled criticism over poor investor protection, followed by Lime-Optimus funds redemption failures the following year.

The years of fiascos were compounded by reports of embezzlements at leading local commercial lenders.

A Woori Bank employee is under internal audit over embezzlement of 10 billion won ($7.2 million), only about two years after a similar offence involving 71.2 billion won made headlines in April 2022.

They falsified loan documents and deposit statements and used some of the funds for cryptocurrency investments.

NH Nonghyup Bank reported a case of 10 billion won in breach of trust in March, followed by 6.4 billion won in unauthorized loan approvals two months later.

KB Kookmin Bank had an 11.1 billion won breach of trust case in April.

Lee Kyung-min


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