Shinhan overcomes late start to cater to expat customers
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Shinhan Bank may be a little late to the expat banking game, but it is trying to make up for lost time with its Global Center catering solely to foreign residents in Korea.
The Shinhan Bank Global Center, located on the first floor of the Seoul Finance Center building in Gwanghwamun, opened last March with multilingual staff, financial consulting services and exclusive products for foreigners.
However, many foreign residents in Seoul are not aware of the global center, even those who are existing Shinhan Bank clients.
Hwang Bok-sun, Shinhan Bank Global Center general manager, admitted the biggest challenge is making the foreign community aware of its existence.
``Even though there are more than a million foreigners in Korea, it is a big challenge for us to advertise our center to foreigners. I’ve been contacting the chambers of commerce, and focused on downtown Seoul where there are many foreign-invested companies. We want to make foreigners satisfied with our services here. We want to show we have the highest level of service in Korea,’’ he told The Korea Times.
In a survey of foreigners regarding banking problems in Korea, Shinhan Bank found the number one problem was the lack of English-speaking staff, followed by the refusal of banks to issue credit cards, and the lack of pamphlets and materials written in English.
The global center addresses these problems by employing staff members fluent in English, Chinese and Japanese; and providing multilingual pamphlets about its products, such as the “multiple currency time deposit,” “foreign change up deposit” and “Love Card.”
Hwang assured there will be no discrimination between foreigners and Koreans, when it comes to the services offered by Shinhan Bank, especially credit cards.
At the global center, the same standards will be applied to foreigners and Koreans when applying for credit cards. Foreigners can apply as long as they meet one of any of the requirements: a monthly salary of 3 million won or more; a professional occupation (i.e. accountant, lawyer, university professor or international school teacher); or works for a Fortune 500 company among others.
``We offer the same credit card products for foreigners and Koreans. The same standards are applied. There is no discrimination,’’ Hwang said.
However, there are still complaints that other branches do not follow the same standards and refuse to issue credit cards to foreigners. Hwang admitted it will take some time before all the Shinhan branches will be able to offer the same quality of service to foreigners.
While the bank’s management is now seeing the potential of the expat market in Korea, the global center is still only one branch out of the bank’s extensive network in Korea. Oddly enough most of its branches, even in areas with a heavy foreigner population, do not have global desks catering to foreign clients, unlike the rival Korea Exchange Bank. The staff members are also remiss in telling their foreign customers about the global branch, either due to lack of awareness or competition.
``Even among Shinhan branches, our global center is not well known. They may know it opened but do not know whether it can provide the highest level of service for foreigners,’’ he said.
Hwang is proposing to hold training programs for other Shinhan branches, and educating them about how to deal with foreign clients. Next year, he also plans to hold lectures on banking matters for foreigners at the branch.
``Our management is still experimenting through this branch. If we are successful, then it will be expanded,’’ he said.