Korea: Language Barrier Stifles Financial Hub Plan

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Jun 2 12:29:29 UTC 2008

Language Barrier Stifles Financial Hub Plan

Korea must overcome the language barrier in order to become a
financial powerhouse like Luxembourg or Hong Kong, Lee Young-tak,
president of the Institute for Global Economics, said. Lee, who served
as a vice minister at the Ministry of Education, emphasized the
importance of foreign languages for the financial industry. He said a
friendly atmosphere should be created for foreign nationals. ``It's
something that should be accomplished on a long-term perspective,'' he
said in an interview with The Korea Times. Lee gave some tips
regarding how Korea could rise to become a financial powerhouse.

``Korea must resolve the problems of an unfriendly atmosphere for
foreigners and the language barrier. People's foreign language skills
are essential for the country to become a financial powerhouse,'' he
said, pointing out that people from Luxemburg are multilingual and
those in Hong Kong speak good English.

Financial Hub Plan Viable

Lee said the government's plan to develop the country into the Asian
financial hub hasn't made much of a notable achievement so far.
``Indeed, there is a pessimistic outlook on the financial hub plan,''
Lee said, citing a Korea Development Institute (KDI) survey in which
only 44 percent of experts in the financial industry had a positive
outlook on the plan.

Nevertheless, Lee was positive. He said Korea could have a competitive
edge in the financial industry, and achieve the goal sooner than

The biggest hurdle lies in manpower, according to Lee. Korea lacks
financial experts both in terms of quantity and quality. He pointed
out that Korea ranked 45th in terms of competitiveness of financial
professionals, far behind Hong Kong at 11th and Singapore at 15th. It
ranked even lower than China at 39th. ``Despite continuous
deregulation by the government, it doesn't seem to have had that much
of a positive effect on market players yet,'' Lee said.

The former KRX CEO, however, saw potential in the capital market and manpower.

``Following the Capital Market Consolidation Act, financial firms will
now be able to develop new financial products more aggressively.''

Lee also cited the IT infrastructure as one of the best in the world.
Combined with this, Koreans' adventurous characteristics made the
KOSPI200 option transaction see remarkable growth, and the KOSPI200
futures transaction, become the world's fifth largest. According to
Lee, such new financial products will add to Korea's growth potential.

Lee cited abundant capital on the buy side as a boosting factor of the
capital market. ``The National Pension, for example, amounts to 257
trillion won as of March 2008, almost doubling from 117 trillion won
in 2003. The foreign exchange reserves also topped $260 billion, a
huge increase from $155.4 billion in 2003,'' Lee said. He added that
investment funds also expanded to 291 trillion won from a mere 145
trillion won five years ago.

He expected manpower to improve, as many high-qualified people who
have been educated overseas are returning to Korea. ``The people's
dedication to education have definitely helped the country,'' Lee

Deregulation Is Key to Success

Lee said deregulation should be at the center of the financial hub
plan. ``Korea needs thorough financial deregulation that is comparable
to the Big Bang of the United Kingdom.''

He acknowledged a series of deregulation measures implemented by the
government, but pointed out that regulations, either official or
unofficial, are still increasing costs for the market.

Lee said the President Lee Myung-bak administration should focus on
tax cuts and deregulation.
``The new administration took the right direction when it chose the
financial industry as the core of its economic growth strategy,'' Lee
said. ``To enhance the competitiveness of the industry, it should
focus on tax strategy and deregulation.'' He pointed out that global
financial powerhouses are cutting taxes and deregulating in a bid to
lure global capital.

Find Niche Market

Lee said Korea has reached a stage in economic development in which
high growth is unachievable through manufacturing only. ``The
financial industry should work as the other wheel paring with that of
manufacturing.'' He said cutting edge financial technologies and cost
cuts in financing could enhance the competitiveness of other sectors.

He pointed out that the ratio of financial assets to the world gross
domestic production (GDP) tripled to 316 percent in 2005 up from 109
percent in 1980. ``The financial industry has become a key engine for
changes and innovation in the global economy,'' Lee said.

``This is based on knowledge and information, and high value added. It
is also an eco-friendly future industry.'' He said the industry, whose
productivity is limitless, is incomparable to any other industry in
terms of job creation or domestic income creation.

He advised that Korea should work on the global niche markets. ``Other
countries are building up a competitive edge in the financial
industry, focusing on the niche market.'' He cited Luxembourg and Hong
Kong as models for Korea.

Despite being small countries like Korea, they have successfully
transformed themselves into international financial hubs through
specialization and a niche market strategy. ``Luxembourg specialized
in euro bonds, establishing itself as a regional financial hub in
Western Europe. It is now at the center of euro bonds and investment
funds. Hong Kong turned into a global financial center by specializing
as a monetary intermediary.'' He said Hong Kong was very lucky as
Japan was strengthening regulation and China was growing explosively.

Capital Market Consolidation Act

He said the Capital Market Consolidation Act would be a big step
forward toward deregulation.

Lee was positive about the financial industry policies implemented by
the former President Roh Moo-hyun administration. ``The Capital Market
Consolidation Act, modeled after the financial `Big Bang' in the
United Kingdom, set up the basis for the development of the financial
industry.'' He expected the act to be a catalyst for the development
of the financial industry.

``However, there should have been concrete policy implementations and
support. It hasn't brought about notable accomplishments yet,'' he
said. Lee added that the financial industry needs a very concrete
policy plan, deregulation, and extensive infrastructure, ranging from
insurance, law and accounting to medical and education services.

He expected there to be heated competition in the market following the
implementation of the act, adding that Korea needs global-scale
investment banks most of all.

``Financial players should become bigger, and the easiest way to
achieve this is through merger and acquisitions (M&A) between
financial businesses.'' He said, however, that there still seems to be
negative views and systematic limitations regarding M&As in Korea.

chizpizza at koreatimes.co.kr


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