BRANCH BANKING | Tony Chua, India

Woori seeks licence to operate in India

The Reserve Bank of India has to allow at least 12 foreign banks to open local branches every year.

South Korea's Woori Bank, the flagship unit of Woori Finance Holdings Co., said it is seeking approval from Indian authorities to set up a branch in the country, adding its name to the list of foreign lenders planning to expand in the fast-growing economy.

Woori said it has applied to open a branch in Chennai in the second half of the year.

The planned branch will offer financial services to South Korean companies and their subcontractors that have a presence in the country, a Woori Bank spokesman said.

Woori's announcement comes as China's biggest lender by assets, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., said Monday it will start operating in India in the near term. A spokesman at the bank said he had no further details.

ICBC said in May it had been granted a business license to open a branch in Mumbai. It said the China Banking Regulatory Commission had already approved the plan to open the Mumbai branch.

Under India's commitment to the World Trade Organization, the central bank has to allow at least 12 foreign banks to open local branches every year. In recent years, the Reserve Bank of India has allowed between 17 and 18 such branches annually. Banks get an initial license to open their first branch and then have to apply each year to open more branches.

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