Hot competition in S. Korea to be fourth Internet bank


Four new contenders have lined up to compete for the fourth licence. — The Korea Herald

SEOUL: The race to receive the licence to become South Korea’s fourth Internet-only bank is growing fiercer, with four bidders announcing their will to contend.

There are currently three online lenders in South Korea: KBank, Kakao Bank and Toss Bank. But four new contenders – Soso Bank, Korea Credit Data Bank, and the U-Bank and Douzone Bank consortiums – have lined up to compete for the fourth licence.

In line with the local regulator Financial Services Commission’s (FSC) vision to encourage financial innovation and deepen financial inclusion through Internet-only banks, the potential bidders proposed to specialise in financial products that can benefit small and medium as well as micro enterprises.

Korea Credit Data is an operator of the business solution platform Cashnote, which is used across 1.3 million companies here. Douzone Bank Consortium was launched by enterprise resource planning software provider Douzone Bizon.

While Soso Bank is backed by a coalition of small merchants nationwide, it is also the entity’s second time trying to gain approval. It failed to earn preliminary approval in 2019, with the FSC pointing out that the then-named Soso Smart Bank was unprepared to manage a bank.

U-Bank Consortium, formed by local startups, vowed to support the financially underserved as well, such as those aged 65 or over and foreign national residents, by offering services connected to healthcare and overseas transactions.

The rush to compete for a licence to operate as an Internet lender comes as the financial regulator lowered the bar for permission in July.

While previously bidders could only apply for a licence when the FSC announced bidding periods, under the change, operators with “demands and business plans that are considered stable and viable” can apply for a licence year-round.

Compared to commercial banks, online lenders could be set up with a relatively small amount of capital.

The Internet-only Bank Act states Internet bank operators must raise at least 25 billion won in capital or more, which is a quarter of the 100 billion-won bar set for commercial lenders.

The industry, however, views that banks will have to raise between 500 billion won and one trillion won in capital to earn a licence.

“Innovative technology is a must, but securing sizeable, stable capital is the most important part in earning the licence,” an official from the local finance industry said.

Cho Yong-byoung, head of the Korea Federation of Banks, also said, “Raising capital will be the biggest requisite for the launch of the fourth Internet lender.”

Even after retaining sufficient initial capital, sizing up will be a challenge for newcomers.

Over the years, existing online banks which started their business with 250 to 300 billion won in capital have sized up to around two trillion won in paid-in capital. — The Korea Herald/ANN

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