Story by: Paul Sharkie, Photos by: Craig Stuart
Having briefly touched on this subject in a past column, I’d like to take a closer look at the full range of options available to those who are just getting started with banking in Korea. For many, testing out the latest technology to assist with their financial needs sometimes comes out of habit, sometimes out of necessity and often just out of pure curiosity. For those who cannot make regular trips to their branch without their employer breathing down their necks (English teachers know this feeling all too well), the digital world undoubtedly offers several options that allow you to do your banking at your own convenience. Employer issues aside, there is something quite satisfying about sitting in a coffee shop with your laptop or mobile device and taking care of your finances without worrying about branch hours. Having said this, if you really prefer talking to an expert or have plenty of time to spare, there is nothing wrong with keeping up appearances and visiting in person.
Korean banks are generally quite fantastic when it comes to spreading their branches around. With a high level of customer service, clean, modern spaces and an increasing amount of foreign language speakers, visiting your bank in person is no longer the stress it was for many arriving in Korea years ago.
Pros Great customer service (overall) and conveniently located branches.
Cons Potentially long waiting times as well as higher overseas remittance fees (when compared to other methods) and occasional communication barriers. Although there are many capable foreign language speakers, should you have any problems, you can always have the teller call your bank’s foreign language call center — they can act as a translator. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Korea has arguably taken the lead when it comes to providing efficient online services. Not only is security taken very seriously here, but several languages are also offered with English being the first choice, followed by Chinese and several others. It would be very hard to find a Western country that makes comparable efforts on such a grand scale. While some banks are better than others, many have invested in the development of fast, reliable and liberating applications that allow you to do a lot online. Though Internet Explorer is generally the only browser that can be used, MacBooks are also creeping their way into recognition with two banks (of which Shinhan is one), offering software that can be pinned to your dock. Much like PC banking, Mac Banking permits almost all of the same functions, including sending money overseas with significant discounts on the bank handling fee.
Pros Absolute convenience, and although some may cite as a complete nuisance, the security methods employed by banks in Korea make banking online a lot less riskier than in other countries.
Cons Online banking cannot (ironically) be set up online! Due to the Real Name Transactions Act, your identity must be verified in person to set up this service; simply endure one visit with your passport, ARC and overseas banking details (should you wish to send money overseas) and you’ll rarely have to visit a branch thereafter.
Much like its elder sibling online banking, mobile apps in English and other languages have been introduced over the last few years (Shinhan’s is currently in development), allowing you to truly bank on the go. Again, registration is required at a bank with your ID, but since this service is so universally popular, this is far from a con. But if you weren’t using a password on your smartphone before, now might be the time to start.
Pros In Korea’s “balli-balli” culture, anything on the go is a huge advantage!
Cons For those not sporting the latest huge smartphone screen, typing in one of the many passwords and transferring funds requires attention to detail; you don’t want to end up sending the wrong amount or entering your password incorrectly too many times (which ultimately ends up in a stressed visit to the branch to reset it all)! Type slowly, please.
ARS phone banking
Not to be confused with mobile (phone) banking, many banks offer an Automated Response System phone banking service. Though the functions vary from bank to bank, a simple call will generally allow you to check your balance and recent transactions, and even send money overseas. Do check with your bank for the service hours and functions they have to offer.
Pros Calling is relatively quick and does not require the usual security methods required by online banking. Some banks also offer this service 24/7.
Cons Registration for the service is required at a branch with your passport, ARC and overseas banking details. This service can usually only be accessed when calling in Korea.
If you intend on sending money overseas, you may only choose one bank as your “Primary Foreign Exchange Transaction Bank”. Your teller can advise on this but, generally, you will need to bring your passport and ARC at this time.
You will also be limited to sending $50,000 (or the equivalent) overseas per year. If you would like to send more, proof of how you sourced the funds must be provided and any amount over this limit will have to be sent in person, at a branch.