Philippe Noirot, Head of Country for BNP Paribas South Korea, shares his insight on Korea’s banking industry and his experience doing business here.
Philippe Noirot joined the BNP Paribas Group back in 2005, where he was the global head of Merchant Banking Strategy, Communications and Business Development and a member of the executive board for the Merchant Banking Division for Fortis (now BNP Paribas Fortis). From 2009 to 2011, Noirot took leadership of the integration of Corporate and Institutional Banking activities between BNP Paribas and BNP Paribas Fortis for the BNP Paribas Group’s acquisition of Fortis Bank. In 2011, he had the opportunity to move to Singapore as the head of Business Development for Corporate Coverage, BNP Paribas Asia Pacific. In October 2013, Noirot was appointed the head of Corporate Deposits & Liquidity, Asia Pacific, subsequently also overseeing Global Coverage Solutions, Asia Pacific.
Noirot is currently the country head for BNP Paribas South Korea, looking after BNP Paribas Group’s overall activities in the Korean market since July 2015, and particularly more in charge of the Seoul branch. When asked about what brought him to Korea, Noirot says while he very much enjoyed being in a regional role in Singapore, he knew that taking the offer as the country head of Korea would provide him with new challenges and knowledge, so he accepted the job, and has been enjoying his life here in Seoul. Read on to find out more about the company, South Korea’s banking industry, and Noirot’s experience doing business here.
Can you tell us about BNP Paribas and its history?
Our history goes back almost 200 years. With roots stretching back as far as 1822, BNP Paribas was formed in 2000 following the merger of Paribas and BNP, the No.1 bank in France. BNP, the core from which the Group was formed, was established in 1966 after the merger of CNEP and BNCI, two banks whose origins date back to 1848. The oldest company in the Group is the Belgian subsidiary BNP Paribas Fortis, whose history dates back as far as 1822.
Worldwide, BNP Paribas has a presence in 72 markets with more than 202,000 employees. We have key positions in our three main activities: Domestic Markets and International Financial Services, and Corporate and Institutional Banking, which serves two client franchises: corporate clients and institutional investors. In Asia Pacific, BNP Paribas is one of the best-positioned international financial institutions with an uninterrupted presence since 1860. Currently, with over 18,000 employees* and a presence in 13 markets, we provide clients with product and service solutions tailored to their specific needs, and continues to develop our franchise in the region.
* excluding partnerships
In Korea, our bank branch was established in 1976 and we celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2016. Now, with over 500 employees, BNP Paribas has been servicing leading corporates, financial institutions and private investors in Korea. We offer transactional banking, advisory and capital market solutions through our Corporate and Institutional Banking and insurance and asset management solutions through strategic partnerships with Shinhan Financial Group.
What made BNP Paribas establish a branch in Korea, and what are the advantages of doing business here?
BNP opened its Seoul branch in 1976 and Paribas opened its Seoul branch the following year. We started expanding into non-banking businesses in the early 2000s. In 2001, BNP Paribas Cardif was established in Korea and BNP Paribas signed a strategic partnership with Shinhan Financial Group. The partnership built joint ventures in insurance and asset management businesses, namely BNP Paribas Cardif Life Insurance, BNP Paribas Cardif General Insurance and Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management, which are successfully managed by both groups today. BNP Paribas Securities Korea was established in 2002.
Korea has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world and we believe Korea will continue to grow. We came here more than 40 years ago and have stayed in the market in order to serve Korean clients. As a leading global bank with European roots, we can help these clients expand their business outside of Korea, especially with expertise in the European markets, while also supporting multinational clients do business in Korea. We have a very strong client franchise and our business has been continuously growing.
How is Korea’s banking industry (or financial system) different from that in other parts of the world?
The Korean banking industry is characterized by a number of large domestic banks, mostly national, a few regional banks, and a sizeable number of international banks. Most international banks focus on corporate and investment banking, while domestic banks provide all banking services, from retail/network banking to corporate banking.
Furthermore, Korea’s banking system is characterized by a strong separation between banking activities and securities activities (similar to what existed in the U.S. until the 90s, and to what still exists, albeit to a smaller extent, in Japan).
What were some product development strategies that BNP Paribas carried out to target Korean customers?
As a corporate and institutional bank, we have been providing solutions to our Korean clients in Korea and abroad. Our bank and its global network is particularly well tailored to help large Korean companies, which are very international, and overall to support the Korean economy, which is highly export-oriented.
On the insurance front, we try to bring the global expertise Cardif has, both in life and non-life insurance, and tailor it to the local needs of our end customers, through our partnership with Shinhan Financial Group and the joint-ventures we established in that context. This is also the approach we’ve followed in asset management.
Our strategic partnership with Shinhan Financial Group has grown over the past 18 years and both Groups benefit from it. We could always leverage Shinhan’s strong presence in Korea while Shinhan can leverage our strong presence in Europe and beyond.
Were there any challenges your firm faced while doing business in Korea?
One of the challenges is the strict separation between banking and securities activities, which does not exist, or not to the same extent, in other countries.
Another challenge is the local perception that, if the going gets tough, foreign companies might leave the country. Even though we have been here for a really long time, we are always asked whether our businesses will remain open in Korea. While it is true that, in recent years, some foreign banks either downsized or withdrew from the market for several reasons, BNP Paribas sees South Korea as a continuously growing market, at a faster pace than the developed markets in the other parts of the world, and we see great business opportunities in this market.
How can Korea become a more ideal business environment for foreign companies like BNP Paribas?
It takes both government’s support and corporates’ investment. I think Korea is very advanced in technology—if the Korean government and regulators support active Fintech development and invite foreign companies to participate, I believe it will be a good growth opportunity for all.
Besides, having a continuous dialogue with regulatory authorities on how to both ensure a sound financial system and allow financial institutions to grow is also of the essence.
What Korean companies/government agencies do you work with (if any) to strengthen your business partnerships?
As mentioned, Shinhan Financial Group is our strategic partner in Korea. Besides SFG, we work with export credit agencies, banking associations and other official and non-official bodies. And we work with all our corporate and institutional clients, which are all very large and reputable companies in Korea, to serve them well both in Korea and abroad.
What is BNP Paribas doing to rise above the competition in the Korean banking industry?
We believe our staff are the key for our success and try to make BNP Paribas a ‘Great Place to Work’ for our employees. We endeavor to attract, retain and develop high performing employees. In order to do this, we provide continuous learning opportunities locally and from our APAC Campus in Singapore. We encourage staff to actively consider mobility opportunities where staff can apply for open positions within the Group for their career development. On the casual side, we occasionally organize social events to create an inclusive corporate culture most recently we went ice skating!
What are some future plans that BNP Paribas has when it comes to doing business in Korea and in Asia?
Our Group has concrete plans to support the UN SDGs and we have embedded basic principles in all areas of our operations. We want to build a business culture characterized by responsible and ethical conduct. We want to give a positive impact on society through our approach on finance and investment and our corporate philanthropy initiatives. Lastly, we want to play an active role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Korea, as part of Asia, is a developing area of the world and we are truly committed to serving our clients in this market. To support the Group’s plan, we‘re always seeking ways to deliver our basic principles to Korean clients.
By Grace Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Investment Public Relations Team / Invest Korea
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA)