Kookmin Offers Customized Services for Expats
By Kim Tae-gyu
A 32-year-old Chinese-Korean male worker with the surname Ma had difficulty in transferring his monthly salary to his wife in Jilin Province, northwestern China ever since he moved to Korea in early 2006.
He had to exchange won to dollars to send them to Jilin, where his wife then had to exchange the greenback to Chinese yuan.
``Back then, we had to pay commissions twice ― in Korea and China. In addition, my wife had to report the exchange of dollars into the yuan, which was very inconvenient,'' Ma recollected.
All the hassles and double-commissions disappeared once and for all in November 2006 when Kookmin Bank, the nation's No. 1 lender, introduced a service of sending money in yuan for the first time here.
When Ma takes his pay in won to a Kookmin Bank branch, it exchanges it into yuan and sends them to Jilin where his wife can withdraw money directly the same day.
Ma can save money by paying exchange fees just once and his wife does not have to make any report to withdraw the yuan.
That's not all: Kookmin officials send a message to Ma's wife about the cash transfer so that he does not have to make an expensive international phone call. The lender also subscribes to insurance in case Ma gets hurt at his workplace with 30-days coverage.
Since he sends money every month just after his pay day, the one-month insurance covers Ma with a maximum one-off payment amounting to 10 million won.
One last perk is that he is given free flight mileage for the transfer ― for every $20 sent, he will get a mile from Asiana Airlines as long as he is a member of the airline's service.
``My life became different after the Kookmin services were launched. I could save my money and gain free mileage. Furthermore, I was insured all of a sudden,'' Ma said smiling.
The service has gained popularity over the past few years ― it was used by around 8,000 Chinese workers this year alone, who remitted a total of 40 billion won to their home country.
Pacesetter in Banking Industry
Kookmin is known as the pacesetter of the country's banking industry thanks to its track record of initiating many advanced services, which its major rivals have to follow suit with. Currently, most Korean banks are providing similar features.
Kookmin went a step further by expanding the service to other currencies used by migrant workers here, whose tally is more than half a million according to official government data.
However, the real number is estimated to be much bigger because there are many undocumented workers.
The foreign employees can transfer money in 10 currencies via Kookmin Bank ― those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladeshi, Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Taiwan and Russia on top of China.
``The service is not about making money. It is basically about helping foreign workers easily remit money to their families,'' said Hwang Il, deputy general manager of Kookmin's Foreign Exchange Product Department.
``Currently, people have to visit to bank branches to take advantage of the service. But we will enable them to enjoy the applications at home through the Internet in the future,'' he said.
The Bank That Cares
Another example of Kookmin putting the convenience of foreign workers on the front burner is its unique branch situated in Ssangrim-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, which opens on Sunday.
``Foreign workers typically do not have the time to pay a visit to bank on weekdays. Hence, we opted to open one on Sunday so that they can deal with banking work during the weekend,'' Hwang said.
``The branch lets foreign employees send money overseas or exchange money from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For those who are not fluent in Korean, there is a translator who can speak both Korean and Mongolian,'' he said.
Early last year, the bank also established a division customized for Korean Chinese in its branch in Guro-dong, Seoul where tailor-made international transfers or exchange services are offered.
``We will continue to put forth efforts to help foreign workers easily deal with banking hassles without difficulties. Toward that end, we are investing in info-tech facilities in other areas,'' Hwang said.
``We hope that we will be able to assist them who work hard to support their families in their home countries. We think that it is our mission to complete this,'' he said.