New Boss At LG Card Targets Recovery In 3 Years

Seoul, March 25 | Updated: Mar 26 2004, 05:30am hrs
The new head of LG Card Co Ltd, South Koreas largest credit card issuer that was rescued by a $4.5 billion bailout, told Reuters on Thursday he aimed to turn around the company in three years.

LG Card could also return to the local bond market for refinancing on its own credit by the end of this year, chief executive Park Hae-choon said in an interview.

The company escaped bankruptcy in January after the rescue by creditors and the LG Group in a bid to avoid wider fallout in the financial sector.

I should say it is a quite successful turnaround if LG Card revives in three years time, said chief executive Park Hae-choon, who was head of a state-owned debt guarantor before taking the top spot at LG Card last week. But that is the goal.

The 56-year-old insurance veteran oversaw the turnaround of corporate bond guarantor Seoul Guarantee Insurance Corp, which faced a solvency crisis in 1998.

Along with many rivals, LG Card rode a government-fostered consumer credit boom, before a bust set in the sector after debts spiralled and lending rules were tightened.

One in 10 South Koreans are behind on their credit card bills, with credit card debt worth 14 per cent of gross domestic product.

Park is bringing in a clutch of former colleagues at Seoul Guarantee to revamp LG Cards debt collection department.

Receiving bailout funds accounts for only 20 per cent of the whole normalisation process, Park said. Most of all, we need to convince the market that LG Card can survive.

Hit by the turmoil in the card sector, LG Card fell 5.6 trillion won ($4.85 billion) into the red last year, the biggest loss for any South Korean firm in 2003.

Its recent bond issues were arranged by creditors and the LG Group because the company was unable to refinance under its own name due to solvency problems.

LG Card, now managed by leading creditor Korea Development Bank, said on Wednesday it would put all its efforts into maintaining its customer base and collecting overdue debts.

Park insisted, however, he had no plans for big job cuts. I will keep everyone below the manager level.

LG Card has 2,525 employees, including 2,409 at below-manager level. The company has 11 million customers, which means roughly one in four South Koreans have LG cards.

Park also said the firm would move out of its expensive 38-storey office building, located in an upmarket district in southern Seoul and replete with its own performing arts centre.

Shares in LG Card last traded at 1,830 won on March 8, before trading was suspended.