Photo: Ham Yeong-ju. Credit: Hana Financial Group.
Hana Financial Group 하나금융, South Korea’s second largest bank, appointed Ham Yeong-ju 함영주 as its new chief executive officer in the shareholder meeting held on March 25, changing the company’s leader for the first time in a decade.
The 66-year-old Ham is legendary in South Korea’s financial circles, as he rose to the executive ranks with only a high school education. (Ham later obtained a college degree from Dankook University 단국대학교 via night classes.) Ham showcased his leadership in the 2015 merger between Hana Bank and Korea Exchange Bank 외환은행, smoothly joining the two banks and pushing the combined company’s profit to KRW 2.57t (USD 2.1b) in FY 2021, within striking distance of South Korea’s largest bank, the Kookmin Bank 국민은행.
But not everyone is happy. International and domestic proxy advisors, including Institutional Shareholder Services and Korea Corporate Governance Services 한국기업지배구조원 recommended Hana’s shareholders to vote against Ham’s appointment, citing the fact that he was censured for poor compliance in selling certain derivatives linked securities, causing massive losses in late 2019.
In March 2020, the Financial Supervisory Service 금융감독원 fined Hana KRW 16.8b (USD 13.7m) and suspended the bank from selling new private equity funds for six months. Activist shareholder groups protested Ham’s appointment, also criticizing the National Pension Fund 국민연금, a major shareholder of Hana, for voting in favor of Ham’s appointment.