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South Korea, the Miracle on the Han River

South Korea was one of the poorest countries on the planet in the 1960s. Today, it has transformed into the 11th largest economy in the world and G20 member, even as it continues to benefit from an emerging country’s growth. Although South Korea’s economy has slowed since its peak, the machine continued to power on at a growth rate of 2.7% in 2018. Learn more about the country’s opportunities, as well as BNP Paribas’ projects in South Korea.

The Miracle on the Han River

BNP Paribas has proudly witnessed and supported South Korea’s impressive economic boom for over 40 years. As predicted by Prime Minister Chang Myon in his 1961 New Year’s address, urging South Koreans to hope for an economic turnaround similar to the “Miracle on the Rhine” in postwar West Germany, the “Miracle on the Han River” has seen the country transform from one of the world’s poorest countries into an economic powerhouse. 

The country’s extraordinary success emerged within a context of large-scale cooperation between business and government. In fact, Park Chung-hee’s, President of South Korea from 1963 to 1979, motto of “treating employees like family” paid massive dividends in terms of labor productivity, as the hard work of South Koreans for the common good became one of the key factors behind the country’s rise. 

This productivity helped achieve South Korea’s aggressive 1962-1966 Five-Year Plan, which aimed to develop the economy by expanding agriculture, energy, developing basic industries (cement, oil, iron, steel), improving infrastructure and boosting exports. In addition, the plan also elevated the status of science and technology in its economy, two industries upon which the country has built its global reputation. 

South Korea also owes its rise to its unique network of “chaebols”. These family-owned conglomerates, which include the likes of Samsung, LG and Hyundai, helped establish the country’s new status as a major global player. Further accelerated by the liberalization of its economy in the 1990s, South Korea demonstrated its success on the world stage by hosting premier international events such as the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. 

BNP Paribas South Korea's key figures


years of presence in the country




ranking on the international ESG BOND LEAGUE TABLE IN 2018

BNP Paribas in South Korea

In South Korea, BNP Paribas has combined its local and global expertise in banking and finance since 1976, when it established its first office on the 18th floor of the Samsung Main Building. In that year, BNP opened its first branch in Seoul, with a Paribas branch arriving the following year. 

Today, BNP Paribas employs more than 500 people in South Korea and offers transactional banking, advisory and capital market solutions to local and overseas clients, including corporations, financial institutions and institutional investors. It provides these Corporate & Institutional Banking services through the BNP Paribas Seoul Branch and BNP Paribas Securities Korea. 

In terms of international financial services for individuals, BNP Paribas provides advanced insurance products through BNP Paribas Cardif Life Insurance, as well as consumer protection products through BNP Paribas Cardif General Insurance, a joint venture between BNP Paribas Cardif and Shinhan Life. 

 “Since the establishment of the BNP Seoul Branch in 1976, and the Paribas Seoul Branch the following year, we have continued to evolve with the Korean economy, while expanding our presence in the market as a trusted partner helping in the development of Korea’s financial industry.” Philippe Noirot, Country Head of BNP Paribas South Korea and CEO of BNP Paribas Seoul Branch.   

In 2001, BNP Paribas strengthened its local presence by forging a strategic alliance with Shinhan Financial Group, one of the largest banking and financial groups in South Korea. In 2002, the two groups created the Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management, which provides retail and institutional clients with advanced and dedicated market expertise in asset management. Today, it is recognized as one of the leading asset management companies in South Korea. Building on its experience and strategic partnerships in the country, BNP Paribas has accompanied major international transactions in South Korea. 

In June 2018, the Group acted as the sole financial advisor to L'Oréal during its acquisition of Style Nanda, a leading online retailer in South Korea.

BNP Paribas promotes sustainable finance in South Korea

In line with its commitment to responsible investing, BNP Paribas has helped to introduce several sustainable bonds in South Korea, including the Korea East-West Power Sustainability bond ($500mn), the country’s first sustainability bond, and LG Chem Green Bond ($1bn, €500mn), the largest green bond in South Korea. Furthermore, BNP Paribas in South Korea was ranked No. 1 on the international ESG bond league table in 2018. 

Creating a positive impact for local communities

To ensure that growth benefits everyone in South Korea, BNP Paribas has partnered with a range of humanitarian initiatives in the country: 

  • Dream Up: a program launched in 2015 that helps 30,000 underprivileged youths boost their self-confidence and self-sufficiency by practicing an art form
  • The Beautiful Store: an annual charity bazaar organized by BNP Paribas since 2011 to raise money for underprivileged children 
  • Dream High: an economic education and career mentoring program led by BNP Paribas Cardif Life Insurance since 2011, offering hands-on experience and tailored mentoring for students interested in a career in finance  
  • Green Leader: a youth empowerment program operated since 2011 in partnership with Forest For Life, in which young people at child welfare centers help create small gardens as “Green Leaders”

Green Leader program launched in 2011 by BNP Paribas South Korea in partnership with Forest For Life 

BNP Paribas in Asia Pacific

Asia Pacific is a strategic region for BNP Paribas, as it continues to develop in the region. From the establishment of its first branches in China and India in 1860, BNP Paribas has expanded to offer one of the region’s most comprehensive branch networks to provide service where it matters. Currently active in 13 markets, with over 18,000 employees, BNP Paribas is one of the best-positioned international financial institutions in Asia Pacific. Its client-centric model aims to anchor its leadership position in Europe and leverage the rapid growth in Asia.

“ As a global leader in banking, we are tremendously excited about continuing to contribute to the development and overall prosperity of South Korea. ”

Eric Raynaud

CEO of BNP Paribas Asia Pacific

Photo credit: header ©tawatchai1990 

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