Lee succeeds in building image as personable guy inside and outside the bank and is ready to do more to lead the bank to expand overseas operations
President Lee Kun-ho of Kookmin Bank. (photo: KB)
President Lee Kun-ho of Kookmin Bank said he is not just a salesman whose businesses are over when each sale is concluded and added that one cannot win the trust of the people by just seeking profit.
The new CEO made the remark as a summary of his first 50 days in office and he is already being praised as having solidified his image both inside and outside the bank. He often joins his staff in the cafeteria at the bank’s head office in Yeouido, Seoul, and chats with them, which helps reinforce his image as a simple and friendly individual.
As the CEO, however, he stressed risk control as one of his key management policies, which is far from his image as a CEO who wears colorful socks and a handkerchief.
Everyone can sense that he is a banker who is rigidly disciplined with unshakable ideals. He stressed that he seeks to make Kookmin a bank that wins public trust during a recent media gathering.
Asked what it has been like to be the CEO of the largest bank in Korea, Lee said he has worked hard and he takes pride in what he has done during the first 50 days in office. There are many things he has to take care of, but he has not had enough time to think about them as he has been too occupied with taking care of his daily routine chores. His shoulders have been weighed down under the responsibility, he said.
He would like to make Kookmin Bank the most trusted leading bank by the customers in Korea, as it has already the largest financial network both at home and abroad among all rival banks in Korea and is well respected by the public.
Looking back over the past 10 years, the bank has had setbacks, too, in some areas due to the wrong decisions and strategies, citing for example, the takeover of Center Credit Bank in Kazakhstan in 2008, which turned out to have a lot of bad assets. But Kookmin Bank still has been able to maintain its composure and competitiveness and has done so without being affected by the adverse management conditions.
The bank did not fall behind its rivals in the area of productivity. He said, “Any moves in this era of low-interest rates and low-growth can do much harm to the bank if not taken cautiously.”
Like many domestic financial institutions, Kookmin Bank has been doing its share of work to expand its overseas operations in the past several years. It has set up local subsidiaries and opened branches overseas. The bank opened its Osaka, Japan branch in 2012 to form a cooperative network with the Tokyo branch, which it set up in 1992. The bank also set up its Mumbai, India liaison office to prepare for its operations in India in the same year.
In November of the same year, the bank set up its local subsidiary in China and opened its Beijing branch to join the three other branches already in operation in China to expand the localization of its operations there. The three other branches in China include the Guangzhou branch opened in 1997, the Harbin branch in 2008, and the Suchow branch in 2010.
The bank opened its London branch in 1991 and the wholly-owned subsidiary in Hong Kong in 1995 followed by the Hanoi office in Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh City branch in 2011. It also has a branch in New York in the U.S. and Auckland, New Zealand.
The bank has been following its strategy to focus on emerging countries for its overseas operations expansion, especially countries in Asia. The strategy called for building its operations in the countries with lesser financial risks and picking the most competitive areas of banking.
In Cambodia, for example, its Phnom Penh branch saw deposit accounts held by local customers increase 75 percent last year, proof of the bank’s efforts to localize its operations rather than limit its dealings to the local Korean communities and businesses.
The bank’s localization strategy is based on showing that it truly cares for local communities through social service activities. For example, the University Students Overseas Service Team that the bank has been supporting has been sending its social service teams every year to a number of Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Thailand, East Timor, and Mongolia and other developing countries in the region, and the bank eyes setting up operations in some of those countries.