Financial Services sector in South Korea

According to a recent data, Korea’s competitiveness as a global financial centre has improved dramatically to become the 11th competitive centre in the world. Investment from international financial services groups is increasing, reflecting the economic potential and strengthening balance sheets of Korea’s financial institutions.

Market overview

South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia and 12th in the world. It has a population of 50 million and a GDP growth of 4.5 per cent in 2011. It is one of the G-20 major economies and a member of OECD. Korea is UK’s 6th largest export market in Asia. UK exports more goods and services to Korea than any EU country bar Germany. There are already 200 Korean companies with a presence in the UK, and 15 listed on the London Stock Exchange. With EU-Korea FTA taking effect from 1 July 2011, the market has become more attractive to foreign investors.

Korea has a highly developed and profitable financial services sector including the second largest insurance market and third largest banking market in Asia. The stability of the banking sector is underpinned by strong fundamentals and active regulation. At less than 1%, South Korea’s non-performing loan ratio is low by regional standards. Foreign investors own some 70% of banking sector.

The relaxation of controls on cross-ownership of financial services will further open up opportunities for market entry, acquisition and business development. As international financial services groups look to develop their footprint in Asia, a presence in Korea is becoming desirable, if not essential.

Key opportunities

Financial Investment Services and Capital Market Act (FSCMA)

The FSCMA came into force in February 2009. The new law was meant to reshape the landscape of the industry by breaking down regulatory barriers separating stock brokerages, futures trading and asset management, thus encouraging market consolidation to form large, internationally competitive players. The Act is comparable to the UK’s ‘Big Bang’ or the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the US. A key aim is to enable larger securities companies to provide a broader and more sophisticated range of capital market products and fee-generating services. The Act also encourages greater cross-selling and cross-ownership within the sector. The Act has been recently revised to aim at introducing home-grown hedge funds to Korea’s capital markets.


Hana Financial Group’s acquisition of Korea Exchange Bank turned the former into a major force in the domestic market, but a fiercer competition within the sector could put a ceiling on south Korean banks’ profitability. Following Hana’s expansionary move, there are now four strong banking groups (Shinhan, KB Kookmin, Woori & Hana) with similar asset sizes, suggesting that the highly-saturated sector could see competition intensify further. Long-term strategic investors have moved into the market in recent years, in many cases acquiring the stakes of an earlier wave of private equity buyers. The FSCMA could open up new opportunities for cross-selling to bank customers, including further development of Bancassurance and capital market business.

Asset management

The market size is still small compared with the size of other developed economies. The value of managed assets was US$274.8 billion as of end of September 2011, ranking 15th among 46 countries. The asset management sector is set for rapid growth as a result of pension reform. More than a third of the country’s 52 asset managers are now solely or jointly run by international groups. South Korea’s retirement pension fund has been growing at more than 100% per year, while the private pension fund has been expanding at an average of 15% per year.


Insurance remains dominated by a small number of local players. However, foreign companies have made strong inroads. Foreign entry in to the market has included both acquisition of existing companies and Greenfield start-ups. Recent listings of life insurers may create new investment targets. Given the impact of global economic crisis on the industry, there will be a limited demand for insurance products in short term. However the growth scenario will change for the medium term because it holds huge potential for improvement with recovery of real income growth and higher exports. Thus, the total amount of direct premiums collection for the forecast period (FY 2009- 2012) has been growing at a CAGR of over 6%, with the main impetus coming from the non-life insurance sector. Korea’s population is aging rapidly and this creates on-going demand for after-retirement protection-type products as well as health insurance products, including accident and illness, and medical expense coverage products are expected to drive this growth.

In life insurance sector, sales of both annuities and savings insurance products are in high demand among consumers. Non-life insurance premiums growth was mainly driven by growing demand for long term insurance and automobile insurance. Samsung Life, Korea Life and Kyobo Life dominate the South Korean life insurance market, accounting for more than half of all life-insurance premiums whereas Samsung Fire and Marine is the largest non-life insurer. ING Life Insurance sold a local operation to KB Financial Group and this deal will enable KB to be ranked as fourth among local insurance companies.

Adoption of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) in 2011 and introduction of risk based capital system (RBC) has contributed to strengthen risk management and improve financial prudence of insurers. It is expected that South Korean insurance sector will grow in coming years on account of more demand for retirement pension scheme, health insurance policies and introduction of new products/policies with more benefits as well as protection.

Sovereign Wealth Funds/Pension Funds

Particular opportunities for asset management and property management companies are to work alongside the likes of the National Pension Service (‘NPS’). Their fund is the fourth largest pension fund in the world with assets of $300 billion. They will have to outsource their increasing assets to more financial service companies, pushing up the demand for funds. They are already working with some UK asset and real estate management companies and purchased three iconic buildings in London including HSBC HQ in Canary Wharf in 2009 and 12% of Gatwick Airport.

The Korea Investment Corporation – a sovereign wealth fund – has shown an interest in real estate and other alternative products in UK. They opened an office in London on 1 December 2011 and recently acquired an office building in the City of London.

Other pension funds such as the Teachers’ Credit Union and the Public Officials Benefit Association also interested in working with UK companies.

EU-Korea FTA

The European Union and Korea signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on 6 October 2010 resulting in the removal of 97 per cent of all tariffs cutting €1.6bn of duties annually for EU exporters from July 2011.

Financial firms will gain substantially from the FTA. They will be able to freely transfer data from their Korean branches and affiliates to their headquarters overseas.

FTA commitments will also enable for financial firms to be off-shoring of back office functions which could impose additional costs of £10-20 million for such firms setting-up operations locally.

Latest export opportunities in the Financial & Professional Services sector

Latest export opportunities in South Korea

Getting into the market

To compete in South Korea UK companies are recommended to have a capable local partner who has an established network in the market and extensive market knowledge.

A long-term perspective and a reliable partnership between supplier and their local partner is one of the key factors in achieving success.

More about doing business in South Korea


Market intelligence is critical when doing business overseas, and UKTI can provide bespoke market research and support during overseas visits though our chargeable Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS).

To commission research or for general advice about the market, get in touch with our specialists in country – or contact your local international trade team.

Contact your local international trade team

UKTI Events

UKTI runs a range of events for exporters, including seminars in the UK, trade missions to overseas markets and support for attendance at overseas trade shows.

Latest events in the Financial & Professional Services sector

Latest events in South Korea

Major Events

City Week 2012

Contact: Maurice Button, Chief Executive, City & Financial

DD: +44 (0)1483 746000


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Sectors: Financial & Professional Services
Countries: South Korea
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