However, what does seem clear is that there are not sufficient ethical guidelines for the finance business. Kookmin Bank seemed very welling to address the issue of ethics. Rather than allowing employees to read and personally interpret ethical rules, Kookmin gave a very in-depth training to employees regarding those rules. This training went a long way towards clearing up misconceptions. That is important because many ethical issues begin with a seemingly innocuous behavior in a gray area, which can rapidly devolve into clearly unethical behavior. Moreover, Kookmin has established a review standard for ethical issues, which is in place to help employees confront ethical dilemmas before they seem insurmountable.
Defining Moments in the Internship
The first defining moment of my internship occurred two days after I began my internship, when I was taken to meet the head of the bank. Kookmin Bank is a huge bank with branches in several different countries. As such, its head is responsible for a huge amount of money and has tremendous responsibilities. Therefore, I was surprised that I was given the opportunity to meet the bank's CEO. What I was even more surprised to learn is that the CEO really did try to cultivate an open-door policy with his employees. While many companies talk about open-door policies and trying to encourage people to think outside of the box, they are still mired in bureaucratic stumbling blocks that can keep employees from addressing work-related difficulties. I felt that the CEO taking time from his busy schedule to come and meet me, a summer intern, reinforced my impression that the company cared about its employees. Even more than that, I realized that successful companies must treat their employees well, because that treatment does trickle down and impact how the employees treat consumers and other end-users.
Another defining moment of my internship occurred when I was working in the local branch of the bank. A customer came in to give a deposit, but had falsely indicated that the amount of his deposit was substantially larger than the amount of money he gave to the teller. I was with the teller as the teller checked and re-checked the amount of the deposit. I had seen this same scenario occur a few times before, and believed that the teller would simply tell the customer of his error, the customer would realize that he had made a mistake, and the situation would soon be remedied. However, in this scenario, the customer refused to even entertain the idea that he had made a mistake. On the contrary, the customer began accusing the teller of some type of intentional wrongdoing, suggesting that the teller had taken the customer's money. I had been next to the teller for the entire length of the transaction, and knew that the teller had not taken any of the customer's money. Moreover, the bank had film from several different angles, and the manager was able to quickly review that film to determine that the teller had not taken the money. That did not seem to satisfy the customer, who was threatening to call the authorities as he left the bank. What that moment taught me is that, when someone works with money, they are at risk of being accused of theft. Whether this customer made an honest mistake or was trying to steal from the bank is something I may never know. What I do know is that, by taking appropriate measures, such as having several different cameras so that all activity in the bank is filmed, the bank was able to protect itself, its employees, and its customers from false allegations of wrongdoing.
Another defining moment in my internship came at the ethics training. With the recent spate of corporate scandals, I considered unethical dealing in financial institutions to consist of major wrongdoing. However, at the ethics training, I began to understand how many opportunities people in the financial services industry have to really injure their clients, should they choose to do so. Even people who are relatively low in the chain of command have access to highly sensitive personal information about bank clients, including personal identification numbers, bank balances, credit scores, and other highly personal information. It occurred to me that unethical behavior could involve using that knowledge in any personal capacity, not just situations where the bank employee is attempting to profit from that information in some manner. Moreover, I realized that professional ethics might conflict with ethics as a human being. For example, if, in my capacity as a financial services professional, I learned that a friend of mine was facing foreclosure on their home, it might be my duty as a friend to try to help them save their home or otherwise mitigate their damages. However, as a financial professional, it would be inappropriate for me to offer them such help, if I only became aware of their situation through my job at a bank. Instead of being helpful, such an offer would be a gross violation of their privacy. Up until that training, it had never occurred to me that my professional code of ethics might occasionally conflict with my understanding of what makes an ethical human being.
Recommending Kookmin Bank
Overall, I believe that my internship experience with Kookmin Bank was a positive one. I was able to observe and participate in almost every aspect of the banking business. This gave me a very broad overview of that business. As a result, I would certainly recommend that students looking to intern with a bank in South Korea consider interning with Kookmin Bank. Moreover, I would make that recommendation even to students who want a more narrowly-tailored experience with some aspect of the financial services industry, because my internship experience could have been more narrowly focused, had I been interested in a particular sector of bank business.
While I would recommend the organization to others, I am undecided about whether I would like to work with Kookmin Bank after I graduate. The bank's main emphasis is on consumer banking services. While it has been expanding into other areas, such as international finance, in recent years, it is still, primarily, a consumer-driven bank. In many ways, this focus on the customer is refreshing and it is probably the main reason that Kookmin Bank is such a successful organization. However, I am very interested in aspects of international finance, and I am not certain that a career with Kookmin Bank would allow me to fully explore that part of my major. On the one hand, I believe that someone with an interest in international finance could manage to play a pivotal role in Kookmin's expansion into areas outside of traditional consumer-driven transactions. On the other hand, I fear that, without sufficient experience in this area, the bank might face major problems with such transactions, making it a difficult place for someone with my career goals. As a result, I am currently undecided about whether or not I will pursue a career with Kookmin Bank after graduation.
Should Internships be Required?
Overall, my experience with Kookmin Bank was very informative, making me see the value in students performing internships. I learned a substantial amount about the banking industry, including information that I would not have learned through a traditional school curriculum. For example, by shadowing the tellers, I learned about day-to-day consumer transactions at a bank, which is information that is not taught in any class. However, I am hesitant to say that required internships are a good idea for students. I was able to find an internship that worked with my schedule and was feasible for me. However, not every student has the freedom, in both time and money, to step into internship positions, which frequently consume significant time and offer relatively low pay. Moreover, for me, the internship program did not teach me anything new about my actual preferred career. As a result, while I consider internship programs to be very helpful and informative, I think that a school must use extreme caution when making them part of a required curriculum.
Kookmin Bank. (2008). Anti-Money Laundering. Retrieved from http://money.kbstar.com