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(2nd LD) Gov't eyes swift sale of remaining stake in Woori Financial

17:26 January 14, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more comments, background in paras 10-11)

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- The government will swiftly implement a plan to sell its remaining stake in Woori Financial Holdings Co. as Woori Bank formally turned itself into a holding company, the head of the financial regulator said Monday.

Choi Jong-ku, chairman of the Financial Services Commission, made the remarks at a ceremony marking the launch of Woori Financial.

The government "will pursue a full privatization of Woori Financial by selling its remaining 18.4 percent stake within the earliest possible time," Choi said.

As part of a plan to privatize Woori Bank, the government sold a 28 percent stake to seven institutional investors in 2016, but it still holds the 18.4 percent stake in the bank.

Sohn Tae-seung (C), CEO of Woori Financial Co., poses for a picture with officials that include Choi Jong-ku (2nd from L), chairman of the Financial Services Commission, during a ceremony marking the launch of the financial group in Seoul on Jan. 14, 2019. (Yonhap)

The government poured a total of 12.8 trillion won (US$11.4 billion) into Woori Bank to keep it afloat in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Woori Bank's transformation into a holding company structure is expected to help the lender bolster its competitiveness in nonbanking businesses.

Woori officials have said once the conversion is complete, the holding company will get listed early this year.

The change is expected to start a round of mergers and acquisitions in the financial community. Woori, as a holding firm, will be free from the 20 percent investment restriction in other units, allowing it to engage in a much wider range of profitable businesses, such as securities, asset management and real estate trusts.

"We will proactively restructure our business portfolio beyond banking services and push for diverse global strategies to become the market leader," Sohn Tae-seung, chairman of the holding company, said during the launch ceremony.

Vowing to diversify its revenue sources via active M&As of nonbanking entities, Sohn later told reporters that his company plans to make its banking business account for 60 to 70 percent of its total assets, with the remainder to be filled up by nonbanking businesses.

"We've tried to build our network in the Southeast Asian market, and will continue to do so," the chief said, adding its plan to push for M&As of entities there "if necessary."

Woori Financial has five affiliates under its wing, including Woori Bank, and also has 17 second-tier subsidiaries, including Woori Card and Woori Investment Bank, under its arm.

In the first nine months of last year, Woori Bank reported a net profit of 1.9 trillion won, up 38 percent from the same period in 2017.

kdh@yna.co.kr

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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