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THE INVESTOR
June 21, 2021

Market Now

Korean banks brace for India’s COVID crisis

  • PUBLISHED :May 12, 2021 - 11:06
  • UPDATED :May 12, 2021 - 11:06
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Employees at one of Shinhan Bank‘s branch in India hold up gifts from Korea sent by CEO Jin Ok-dong in August 2020. (Shinhan Bank)

South Korean banks have launched emergency safety measures for their business units in India, as the country grapples with the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.

The spiking coronavirus infections and deaths in the world’s second-most-populous nation present yet another major hurdle for the banks’ overseas expansion goals, after Myanmar’s military coup in February.

According to the watchdog Financial Supervisory Service, eight Korean banks had entered the Indian market as of end-2020, operating a total of 13 branches and three offices there.

Shinhan Bank, which has the largest business network in India among the eight lenders, with six branches and 320 employees, has asked the families of its dispatched Korean employees to return home.

It has also shifted to remote working and has scaled back operations at its branches in the Maharashtra area -- specifically, in Mumbai and Pune -- with only 15 percent of the workforce at each branch upon the request of the state government.

“We have yet to review the return of the Korean employees dispatched there, but operating the business with the safety of our employees is our foremost concern,” a Shinhan Bank employee said.

“Family members of the Korean employees are returning home and we have sent face masks, testing kits and food to support both our Korean and Indian employees there,” the employee added.

Another major commercial bank, Hana Bank, has paid for vaccinations for employees at its two Indian branches. Most work from home, it said, with only a few stationed at brick-and-mortar branches.

Woori Bank, which operates three branches in India with nine Korean employees and 33 Indian employees, has cut its business hours, operating from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and ordered part of its workforce to work remotely.

KB Kookmin Bank, which has one branch there, and NH NongHyup Bank, which operates an office in New Delhi, have asked its employees to work from home and said they were monitoring the situation closely.

Alongside Vietnam and Myanmar, India is a key overseas market for Korean banks with its rapidly developing economy and large population. But the lenders have had to take a step back from their plans in Myanmar, as the military coup forced them to withdraw their Korean employees and scale business back to a minimal level.

KB launched a special center focused on its loan reviews in the Indian and ASEAN market in April, and NH NongHyup is preparing to launch another branch in the planned city of Noida, India. The agricultural bank filed for permission from India’s central bank in June last year and expects a response by the end of the year.

As of May 10, India’s health authorities had reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths, taking India’s coronavirus infection tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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