Autonomy drives Kakao Bank’s innovation

13-Dec-2019 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Kakao Bank, one of Korea’s two internet-only banks, drew attention when it managed to attract10 million users within two years of its launch in July 2017.

This was attributed to its elimination of the existing verification process for online banking, as well as its conveniently designed mobile banking application, and innovative financial products, including a six-month deposit.

Many foreign entities including companies and financial authorities have visited the bank to learn about it.

Kakao attributes its innovation to the way the company works.

Absence of hierarchy

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Kakao Bank is the absence of hierarchy.

This can be observed by the way employees address each other. Instead of addressing someone by their job title, they call each other by an English name.

While such a system is increasingly being employed at startups and IT companies here, it still remains largely unfamiliar in other industries.

To a certain extent it evokes antipathy, as referring to a person of senior rank by their name can be viewed as rude in a culture that places value on respecting one’s seniors.

While the bank’s employees are younger on average than those at a conventional company, it does have older employees that have worked for major banks, which are known to be rigid and conservative.

“We started using English names since we only had about10 to 20 employees,” Joshua Yoo, a manager in charge of HR, said. “We all had different backgrounds but we were able to become more honest with each other and break down walls by addressing each other this way.”

“Employees are able to share ideas and freely speak which may have been difficult if there was a title-based system. A small change in the way we communicate has enabled Kakao Bank to become a dynamic place with creative ideas.”

In addition, Kakao Bank has no separate offices for the bank’s CEO or executives.


Kakao Bank’s horizontal culture is witnessed by the way employees work.

Managers at the company don’t assign projects but rather monitor the progress of projects the staff are undertaking.

“In the case a manager is in a decision-making position, the projects that the manager decides to undertake will likely be limited to that person’s capability,” an employee said.

“Without a manager, we find our own work and share what we do with other employees.”

All employees are able to pitch ideas and offer their views on a project, from planning to development, design and marketing.

Employees can also take breaks for a cup of coffee or take a nap at the bank’s sleeping room when they feel the need.

Flexible working hours

While the bank sets the number of hours employees need to work a month, they can choose when to come to work, under a flexible working system implemented in July.

“For us, the autonomy of each employee was the most important principle in setting up this system,” said an employee who helped develop the flexible working system.

Kakao Bank devised the system by gathering the opinions of employees, and revised it numerous times according to employees’ feedback.

This differs from the typical company method of having their strategy planning or human resources department create a system and apply it company-wide.

“It was a difficult process, but I, as a potential user, wanted to create a system I wanted,” the employee said.

“This is exactly the way Kakao Bank seeks to work ? creating something out of need, seeking services I want to use as a customer and swiftly reflecting users’ feedback.”

Employees are also able to take days off according to their needs, without having to receive approval from a superior.

The bank allows staff to divide up their vacation time so they can take a half-day off, or just two hours off. This is especially useful for working parents.

The bank offers 30 days of paid vacation for staff that have been with the company for three years, a system that is hard to find here. Many of its employees who joined before the bank’s launch have been using their vacation time in recent months.

Kakao Bank received a presidential award in July for its employee-centered working environment.


Category: Korea

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