South Korea’s top four major banking groups – KB, Shinhan, Hana and Woori – saw their combined earnings last year hit a record high, largely buoyed by robust interest and commission income.

According to their separate regulatory filings, the total net profit of the firms soared 34.5 per cent year-on-year to 14.5 trillion won ($12 billion) last year, eclipsing the previous record of 10.8 trillion won in 2020.

KB Financial Group outpaced rivals in terms of net profit. Its net increased 27.6 per cent to 4.4 trillion won. Its flagship commercial lender KB Kookmin Bank’s net profit gained 12.7 per cent on-year to 2.59 trillion won, while brokerage KB Securities’ net jumped 39.6 per cent to 594.3 billion won.

Shinhan Financial Group trailed behind KB, posting record net profit of some four trillion won, up 17.7 per cent compared a year ago. Banking unit Shinhan Bank’s net profit gained 20 per cent on-year to 2.49 trillion won and securities arm Shinhan Investment’s net profit more than doubled to 320.8 billion won.

Smaller rivals Hana Financial Group and Woori Financial Group also reported upbeat earnings. Hana and Woori posted net profit of 3.6 trillion won and 2.8 trillion won, up 33.4 per cent and 23.3 per cent, respectively.

The robust net profits were largely driven by commissions tied to increased loans extended to borrowers seeking to purchase stocks and cryptocurrencies, amid a record-low interest rate.

The Bank of Korea had slashed its benchmark interest rate to 0.5 per cent in May 2020 and maintained it for more than a year to cushion the economy from pandemic woes. Nodding toward high inflation and the recovering economy, the central bank delivered its first pandemic-era rate hike in August last year, followed by two 0.25 percentage raises in August 2021 and January this year. Last month’s rate hike brought the rate back to a pre-pandemic level of 1.25 per cent.

Meanwhile, over the entire of 2021, banks’ household loans increased 71.8 trillion won, the third-largest gain in history.