Relocation of state-run banks as election pledge unnerves employees again

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Relocation of state-run banks as election pledge unnerves employees again

The sign of the Korea Development Bank (KDB) is located in front of its headquarters in Seoul. KDB is among several public financial institutions that presidential candidates say they plan to relocate to provincial areas. Korea Times file

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Rival presidential candidates committed to moving financial institutions to regional areas

By Yi Whan-woo

Global Tech News Daily

The relocation of state-run banks from Seoul to provincial areas has been brought up again by presidential candidates as a campaign promise to push forward with balanced regional development projects.

While the pledges have been labelled vote-buying-schemes and have yet to be realized, the case could be different this year as the two most popular rival candidates are equally committed to promising the relocations with the March 9 presidential election approaching.

Global Tech News Daily

Their commitment is accordingly unnerving employees of the three stare-run lenders ― Korea Development Bank (KDB), Export-Import Bank of Korea (Eximbank) and Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) ― more than in past elections.

In addition, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is emerging with a plan to make amendments on a related law so as to move about 200 public institutions out of Seoul and the greater metropolitan area, many of which, are in the finance sector.

“We are extremely agitated every election season, as candidates regardless of their party, call for a need to move our headquarters,” an employee of a state-run bank said, asking not to be named.

Relocation of state-run banks as election pledge unnerves employees again

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), answers reporters during his visit to a cultural district in Insa-dong, central Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

The employee referred to DPK presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung’s reassertion to relocate “all public institutions that remain in the Seoul metropolitan area” if he is elected.

Lee’s pledge, if successful, will see the realization of an ambitious vision proposed in the first decade of the 2000s by then-President Roh Moo-hyun to relocate the nation’s administrative capital as well as headquarters of public agencies, including state-funded firms and institutes.

To date, the project remains incomplete, as mostly non-financial institutions moved out of Seoul, amid partisan wrangling as well as protests from the labor unions of the financial organizations.

Relocation of state-run banks as election pledge unnerves employees again

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), announces his pledges on annual income tax refunds among other things at the PPP headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

With regards to the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), its candidate Yoon Suk-yeol promised to move the KDB’s headquarters to Busan, during his visit to the southeastern port city on Jan. 15.

Yoon’s pledge was made in consideration of Busan’s push to emerge as a maritime financial hub in Northeast Asia.

“I will move KDB to Busan, because its leap toward the world’s best coastal city requires the backing of the financial resources,” the PPP candidate said.

A state-run bank’s employee, also speaking on condition of anonymity, observed that it is not feasible, saying “It’s better for us to stay in the capital given the nature of our task.”

Another employee noted it will cost more in terms of living, as many affected workers will have to live alone away from their families in Seoul, or endure increased expenses as long-distance commuters.

“This is certainly not helpful for economic revitalization,” he said.

The possible mass departure of a talented workforce and inefficiency at the workplace are cited as reasons for protesting against the relocation.

For instance, the state-run lenders constantly work with the National Assembly, private financial firms and the financial regulators, which are all in Seoul.

“It is all too evident that the relocation will get nowhere concerning efficiency and only complicate any decision-making process,” a Korean Financial Industry Union member said.

The DPK in general has been eager to complete the relocation. In the 2020 general election, the party’s then-Chairman Lee Hae-chan promised to do so, before dropping the plan amid the backlash from the state-run bank workers.

The main opposition apparently sought to capitalize on the dispute in the 2021 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, with the party’s then-interim leader Kim Chong-in vowing to house the state-run banks in Busan. The party won the election in both cities.

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