• Asia-Pacific

Seoul’s Business Hub, Yeouido, Makes English-friendly Push to Attract More Investment

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said on Aug. 21 that it has begun turning Yeouido, home to finance and investment banking businesses in Seoul, into a more English-friendly area in a bid to transform it into a global financial hub.

“In the long term, we are considering the possibility of making English the official language of Yeouido to attract foreign investment,” Seoul metropolitan government official Kim Guk-jin said. “However, this cannot be accomplished in the short term, so our immediate focus is on improving the living conditions for foreign employees of financial firms in Yeouido.”

The initial measure involved the installation of English signs.

In Yeouido, nine bilingual signs transformed, shifting their emphasis from Korean words to English, and four more English signs were newly installed.

Starting in October, the government will initiate English announcements on all buses that make stops in Yeouido.

English-language counters at commercial banks in Yeouido will be expanded as well.

“Woori Bank is already operating its English-language counter in Yeouido. We are also in discussions with Shinhan Bank, among other commercial banks, to expand this service,” Kim said.

Plans are also in motion to establish an English-friendly library and an English kid’s cafe in the Brighten Yeouido apartment building.

The government has earmarked the basement and second floors of this building, which are owned by the Yeongdeungpo-gu district government, for the library and kids cafe, respectively.

Yeouido falls under the administrative jurisdiction of Yeongdeungpo-gu in Seoul.

Nonetheless, discussions are underway between the city and the district government regarding the funding of the facility’s operational costs, estimated to be around 3 billion won ($2.24 million) annually, according to industry sources.

This initiative to establish an English-friendly environment is a key component of Seoul’s strategy to transform Yeouido into a global financial hub.

According to industry sources, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon has shown a strong commitment to transforming Yeouido into an English-friendly environment for foreign investors.

He perceives a competitive disadvantage for Seoul compared to other global financial centers like Singapore, which operate in English as their official language.

In March, the city green-lighted a comprehensive plan to revamp Yeouido as a Financial Special Development Promotion Zone, with the overarching aim of creating a dedicated area primed for attracting foreign investments.

The city is committed to investing a substantial sum of 59.35 billion won ($6.52 billion) over the next five years to transform Yeouido.

In addition to creating an English-friendly environment, its flagship project includes the launch of a Digital Financial Support Center in Yeouido, aimed at nurturing financial technology companies. The Seoul metropolitan government plans to complete the construction of this center by March 2027, with an injection of 29.4 billion won in total funding.

Meanwhile, dissenting voices have suggested the endeavor is allocating an excessive portion of the city’s budget to enhance foreign-friendliness.

“Those employed in financial firms in Yeouido are already proficient in English. Therefore, questions arise about why budgetary resources should be directed toward creating an English-friendly environment,” said a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Government Industrial and Special Development Promotion Area Review Committee during a February meeting convened to assess the project.

In response to these concerns, the city government underscored the significance of fostering an English-friendly environment to attract more foreign financial firms to engage in business within Korea.