Korea: Seoul encourages foreign investment
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Korea: Seoul encourages foreign investment

Korea’s new found openness to foreigners, as it strives to become a regional financial centre, is about to face its first test.

Seoul: new push to become regional financial centre

A little over a month after the Capital Markets Integration Act passed through Korea’s National Assembly and created what policymakers are calling a Big Bang for Seoul, HSBC agreed on September 3 to pay $6.3 billion to US private equity firm Lone Star for a 51% stake in Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), the country’s most contentious financial asset. The new legislation is the key enabling piece of a broader push for Seoul to become a financial hub for the region. Some of the differences it brings are subtle but very important. For example, the emphasis has changed to telling market participants what they can’t do, rather than what they can. In other words, unless something’s specifically prohibited, it appears to be fair game – a model that encourages innovation.

Another big impact of the legislation is that it actively encourages crossover between different financial disciplines. In particular, securities firms will be allowed to offer financial settlement services, which at the moment can only be offered by banks. Brokerages should become broader investment bank-like businesses, less reliant on brokerage commissions, and one would expect a lot of consolidation.

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