Merrill, Woori in Talks on Private Banking Tie-Up

Merrill Lynch and Woori Bank are in discussions to cooperate in private banking operations after the U.S. bank proposed a joint venture geared to wealthy clients, a Woori official said on Wednesday.

Woori, South Korea's No. 3 bank with assets of $200 billion, wants to learn about business and personnel management from the global bank, but an official said it may be too early to form a joint venture with Merrill at this stage.

"Merrill Lynch made the joint venture proposal around July," said the Woori official, who declined to be named. "We are in the initial stage of examining how we can cooperate in businesses."

Merrill declined to comment.

The banking unit of Woori Financial Group, 73% owned by the government, has been seeking to expand its investments and consumer banking through partnerships and acquisitions.

Its previous efforts to find an investment banking partner among global names have made little progress.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse bought 30% of Woori Financial's fund management arm for $56 million in 2006.

Woori Financial is also in talks to buy a majority stake in a domestic leasing firm and reportedly bidding for a small life insurance company.