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Kakao Bank co-CEO joins ruling party, forfeits W2.6b stock option

Lee Yong-woo, co-chief executive of South Korea’s largest neobank Kakao Bank, said Sunday he had agreed to join the ruling Democratic Party in an apparent bid to run in the general elections here in April.

The accompanied move to quit the mobile-only lender comes at the cost of his stock option -- 520,000 shares in the commercial lender that may be converted to at least 2.6 billion won ($2.2 million) starting March 2021. 

Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Hae-chan (left) and Kakao Bank co-CEO Lee Yong-woo poses for a photo at a ceremony in the National Assembly held on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Hae-chan (left) and Kakao Bank co-CEO Lee Yong-woo poses for a photo at a ceremony in the National Assembly held on Sunday. (Yonhap)
“I’m confident that the Moon Jae-in administration’s success is indispensable for the paradigm shift from outdated and unfair practices,” Lee said Sunday. “Setting aside my past success as a CEO, I’m here to bring innovation to politics.”

Dissenters including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy expressed regret that the chief of the bank “born under the government’s preferential treatment” might become a lawmaker.

Lee marked the seventh figure granted political party membership by the Democratic Party, ahead of the general elections, which partially adopts proportional representation based on party lists.

Formerly a chief investment officer at Korea Investment Management, Lee headed Kakao Bank since 2017, which rose to become Korea’s largest banking institution without brick-and-mortar branches.

Kakao Bank looks to turn around in 2019, with 15.4 billion won in net profit in the first three quarters, after logging 20.9 billion won net loss a year prior.

Internet giant Kakao is the biggest shareholder of the lender, with a 34 percent ownership minus a share. Kakao Bank seeks to embark on the process to go public from the second half of the year.

By Son Ji-hyoung (consnow@heraldcorp.com)
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