South Korea banks pledge $1.5 billion for small businesses amid push to share profits

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s commercial banks will provide 2 trillion won ($1.53 billion) to support small businesses, the organisation representing the lenders said on Thursday, amid political and regulatory pressure to share more of their profits with society.

The Korea Federation of Banks, which represents 23 financial institutions including Kookmin Bank and Woori Bank, said of the total, 1.6 trillion won will be used as cash refund for interest payments borrowers made, to help them cope with the rising costs of living as interest rates climb.

Pressure has been building on local lenders to share their profits, with the country’s four largest commercial banks’ combined profits from lending activities at almost 33 trillion won last year, up more than 20% on the year.

“Small business owners have been hit hardest due to factors including rising interest rates, even before things got better from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kim Joo-hyun, chairman of the country’s regulator Financial Services Commission, adding the banks’ plan to offer financial support will help mom-and-pop businesses.

($1 = 1,303.1700 won)

(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)