Shinhan Seeks to Become Foreigner-Friendly Bank
By Lee Hyo-sik
Domestic lenders are increasingly targeting expatriates here and ethnic Koreans overseas as new sources of growth, with the local customer segment reaching a saturation point amid the country's rapidly-aging population and low birthrat.
Shinhan Bank has been leading the pack, introducing a range of innovative, convenient and affordable financial products and services for the growing foreign population here over the years. It has emerged as a foreigner-friendly bank by providing non-Korean residents here and ethnic Koreans abroad with one-stop, highly-customized financial services.
A growing number of Japanese, Chinese and other foreign visitors have come to Korea over the past few years in line with the nation's improving global image, which includes the Korean Wave, or ``hallyu.'' Many foreign students also come here for education, with more investors and businesspeople calling Asia's fourth-largest economy home in accordance with its growing economic status, presenting new business opportunities for local banks.
Additionally, an increasing number of ethnic Koreans are seeking to invest in their motherland as the Korean economy has become one of the world's leading growth engines. With its faster-than-expected recovery in the aftermath of the global economic downturn late last year, more Korean descendents are looking to put money into local real estate properties and stocks through banks and other financial institutions here.
To more effectively meet the growing need for diverse financial services among foreigners residing here and ethnic Koreans in the U.S. and other countries, Shinhan Bank plans to open a ``global financial center'' in central Seoul in March 2010. The nation's second-largest lender will become the first bank to set up a branch exclusively for foreign nationals.
The envisioned branch is expected to serve high-net-worth foreign nationals living in the country and ethnic Koreans interested in making an investment here, providing a range of ordinary and specialized banking services.
It will set up an exclusive service zone for foreigners and ethnic Koreans, as well as wealthy Koreans who are considering moving to foreign countries or sending their children to foreign schools, in a bid to offer foreign exchange, overseas remittance, immigration consulting and other tailored products and services.
The branch will hire staff members fluent in English, Japanese and Chinese, and offer trade, tax, foreign exchange, legal and real estate consulting services in cooperation with workers at the headquarters and other branch offices.
In a year or two, Shinhan is seeking to turn the global financial center into the flagship of its global retail strategy and create positive synergy with its overseas branch offices.
Additionally, the lender will allow foreigners to make the full use of its Internet Banking and call center services in diverse languages and develop a more customer-friendly and innovative financial products and services in cooperation with foreign partners.
A Shinhan Bank executive expects the global financial center to help the lender take the lead in the foreigner and ethnic Korean segments, securing new sources of income. ``We also expect our efforts to better serve the expatriate community and Koreans living overseas to improve our international image. We are positive that these will become a stepping stone for us to emerge as a globally leading retailer and lender in Asia and beyond.''
Expanded Banking Services for Migrant Workers
In an effort to better serve migrant workers here, who are mostly from Southeast Asian nations, Shinhan will operate its Bangsan Market branch in central Seoul on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The branch will mainly cater to Mongolian nationals working in the traditional market who need to send money to their home country.
Also, the bank's foreign exchange center in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, where many foreign laborers work and live, will open its door next March. It is designed to help non-Koreans, mostly Chinese, remit money to their home country and carry out other basic banking services.
The bank is currently operating a total of 12 branches across Seoul to provide foreign workers with remittance and other financial services.
Particularly for Chinese workers here, Shinhan has introduced a ``fast'' remittance service in which they can send money in dollars or won without having to exchange it into Chinese yuan. Through the service, their family members and friends in China can receive money in yuan at any branch office of the Bank of China. It also offers up to 30 percent discounts on foreign exchange commission and up to 50 percent discounts in remittance fees.
To further help foreign laborers, Shinhan is offering a financial service enabling them to send preset amounts of money automatically every month to their families in their home currencies, after depositing their wages in won.
Additionally, foreign workers and students can call home free of charge at Shinhan's headquarters in central Seoul and branch offices in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. The branches are Gangnam-Joongang, Moogyo, Gangnam Station, Apgujeong-Joongang, Bundang, Ilsan and Bangsan Market. It plans to expand the free international call service to more branch offices across the country.
Shinhan Bank is also providing a ``My World Remittance Account'' to parents of Korean students studying abroad, foreigners residing here and others who frequently send money overseas.
Customers have three options. First, they can set a fixed exchange rate at which money is automatically remitted when the foreign exchange rate reaches it. In the second option, money is automatically remitted when a preset amount is deposited. The third option allows users to send money abroad automatically on a particular date.
Additionally, those who remit over $1,000 can get free injury insurance coverage of up to 20 million won, while money senders benefit from up to 30 percent discounts on currency exchange and remittance transaction fees.
A bank official said the account was developed after studying the financial needs of foreign workers and others who frequently remit money to other countries over an extended period of time. ``Particularly, it helps customers when the exchange rate fluctuates widely.''