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Kingdom woos Woori Group

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Pedestrians walk past a Woori bank branch in Seoul, South Korea. The firm’s officials have said it is exploring setting up a bank in Cambodia. Bloomberg

WOORI Financial Group is in talks with the National Bank of Cambodia towards opening in the Kingdom, according to NBC officials.

It would be the sixth South Korean-owned bank to come to Cambodia, in what experts say is an increasingly crowded sector.

NBC Director General and spokeswoman Nguon Sokha said yesterday the Kingdom’s central bank supports Woori in discussions to open in Cambodia.

“We are happy with the prospect of their [Woori’s] investment. We need more experienced banks to come because they can bring new and high-tech products and services and they also share their knowledge with the country,” she said.

“In the meantime, we are trying to integrate our banking system into the region. This requires more and more experience and knowledgeable human resources,” she said.

Woori officials yesterday stressed that discussions were at a preliminary stage.

“We are just touching on discussion now. I can’t say any more,” said Woori Financial Holding Managing Director Pak Tong-Yang.

No timeframe for an official application to the NBC has been decided, he said. A joint capital injection of US$50 million was cited in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, but he said that was not an official number.

Nguon Sokha said official talks were not far away, pending the financial group’s appraisal of Cambodia’s banking sector.

“They approached us a few months ago and we will soon hold official discussions,” she said. “I think now they just want to survey the industry before they make a decision.”

However, some industry insiders said there may already be an excessive number of banks in Cambodia given the present size of the market.

Woori would be the sixth South Korean bank to open in Cambodia, Kookmin Bank Cambodia President and CEO Jang Ki-Sung said yesterday.

“I agree that there are too many Korean banks in Cambodia compared to the size of Korean business here,” he said.

South Korean business, once concentrated in the construction and real estate sectors, has recently shifted focus to garment production and agriculture, Jang Ki-Sung added.

Kookmin Bank Cambodia, which opened in 2009, has been profitable and has grown rapidly this year, he explained.

In Channy, President and CEO of ACLEDA Bank, said the opening of Woori Bank in Cambodia would introduce a professional workforce and new technology to the local industry.

In Channy said there is still much room for growth in Cambodia’s banking sector.

“There’s lots of opportunity for newcomers in the industry.  Our loan and deposit portfolio is still below GDP – below 30 percent, meaning there is still opportunity here,” he said.

Woori Financial Group, South Korea’s largest financial group, was founded in 2001. Regionally, it has branches in Vietnam, Bangladesh and China among several other countries.

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