[CEO Interview] ATON CEO Kim Jong-seo “Leading Financial Innovation to Move Goliath”
[The Desk Met] ATON CEO Kim Jong-seo “Leading Financial Innovation to Move Goliath”
Korea IT News
August 8, 2019
“We provide innovations to Goliaths. We help large companies that can’t change on their own to innovate.”
This is ATON’s business philosophy. ATON CEO Kim Jong-seo has been reading the market ahead of large companies for the past 20 years and has focused on accumulating innovative technological skills. ATON has been behind innovative financial services and cutting-edge fintech for large companies.
ATON is not well known among the public, but it has been a domestic technology leader in its industry, which includes fintech and security, for 20 years. When you hear the term “first in Korea,” it’s often ATON’s name that follows.
Twenty years ago when online securities transactions were in their infancy, ATON began with Internet stock trading (HTS). It offered the first mobile finance services in the country with Daishin Securities in 2002. Later, ATON introduced mobile banking, private authentication, software security and other innovative technology to Korea.
CEO Kim’s quick grasp of technology and skillful eyes reading the market are still going strong 20 years later. The company has moved beyond simple technological development to work in various fields such as platform business. Its goal now in its 20th year is to be listed on the stock exchange and have a new future.
-The company changed its name this year. What does this mean?
▲As the company expands into new fields including solutions and fintech platform services, it considers its old name of “AT Solutions” to be too limiting. ATON is a combination of “AT” and “ON”. Our thinking behind it was that we wanted it to mean constant innovation that always illuminates more brightly. ATON is also the name of the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, and it means an intention to shine light on the world with IT and create a brighter future so that people can enjoy innovation and live more conveniently.
- You’ve grown from, initially, a cell phone financial service company into a representative fintech security firm in Korea.
▲For 20 years in the finance and IT industry, we’ve always thought long and hard about why finance is always so inconvenient, and we realized that all these inconveniences started with insufficient security in financial services. Additional security was always needed since methods of using financial services, such as certification, one-time passwords (OTP) and security cards on mobiles and PCs were themselves insecure.
Of course there has been progress. Secure elements (SE) were conceived to make safe, reliable aspects of media for better safety and convenience when using financial services. ATON also believed SE was the more convenient, more secure direction to take. We actively invested in SE and had the first software SE in Korea. Above all, SE is a certification process in a separate specific secure area. There is no need for complicated passwords, OTP, or security cards since customer certification is already handled in a very secure space.
Large Korean banks such as Shinhan Bank, Nonghyup Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea, and KB Bank as well as K Bank and Savings Bank all chose ATON’s fintech security solutions.
-You’ve boasted of technology that leads the industry for 20 years. Where does your competitiveness come from?
▲ ATON hires outstanding talents and puts great effort into R&D based on “DNA of innovation” which will make the world more convenient with technology. Some 70% of ATON employees currently work in R&D. We’ve gathered together excellent people to naturally lead us to the top of the industry.
As a result, in the past 20 years, we’ve developed the first HTS, then Korea’s first mobile finance service, mobile trading system, mobile banking, private authentication and software security element.
Naturally, we also invest in training to advance our employees’ skills. All training programs employees apply for are supported by the company. We’ve created a virtuous cycle in which employees actively lead their own development.
- ATON”s slogan is “changing daily life through security.” How does security change our lives?
▲Our daily lives now would be impossible without Internet and mobile, and it’s no different with security. All online transactions, especially those involving sensitive information, have security at their core. We believe that excellent secure technology makes our future more convenient.
We at ATON believe that we are already changing daily lives through security. Just a few years ago, everything was inconvenient, from transferring money to opening an account. Passwords were complicated and difficult to remember, and certificates had to be renewed annually. But now? Strong security has significantly reduced these inconveniences. Our lives have become more convenient.
Making financial transactions more convenient through security is ATON’s goal. This is the same reason we evolved from hardware to software SE.
Many people still use certificates, but people who have given ATON’s solutions a try can never return to the old method. Our innovation provides better services to change people’s habits, no matter how set in stone.
This will continue into the future. With many devices online, people will save time through technology and enjoy more convenient lives. But we believe that reliable security must support this, and ATON will be the center of this technology innovation.
- You recently passed preparatory screening for KOSDAQ listing. Why are you choosing to be listed now?
▲Changes are coming rapidly and competition is fierce in the 5G era. We need to lead the market through excellent manpower and R&D to stay ahead of this quickly developing era.
We plan to move forward again by broadening our customer base and expanding overseas. A KOSDAQ listing will be a great help to that goal.
Listing increases our brand value and makes ATON known to more people. It also increases trust, which is very important for a security company.
ATON will work with IT companies including fintech companies in addition to financial institutions in the future. We now provide simple payment services in a number of applications. The fintech security solution market is gradually expanding.
It’s currently difficult to find a successful precedent for a Korean security company entering the foreign market. ATON is a powerful force in the Korean fintech market and is advancing into the global market as well. We will make our progressive fintech known worldwide.
-PASS is growing quickly.
▲ ATON is involved in the PASS certification application platform provided by the big 3 telecoms as an exclusive operator for electronic signatures. We help customers easily authenticate with their financial institution. The PASS certificate released in April was issued 4.5 million times in just its first three months. It is used in public organizations’ mobile notification services and the Tax Office’s integrated real estate tax information text message service. Customer feedback has been very positive, and more public institutions plan to use this service.
The primary reason people use it is that PASS certificates can be issued right in the app with a fingerprint or PIN authentication and don’t need to be renewed for three years. Our goal is to expand the use of PASS certification to insurers, securities firms and capital firms to alleviate inconveniences for more customers.
- There have been a lot of changes this year, such as the introduction of new services. What are you preparing for after PASS?
▲ ATON has provided only fintech security solutions thus far, but with PASS, we’ve acquired the know-how to develop app-based platform services and to plan and operate them ourselves. We want to become a “fintech enabler/builder” to develop various services for more people to use integrated platforms like PASS. We are working to provide fintech services in cooperation with companies with many customers. Beginning in February this year, we worked with the community “The Camp” used by families and partners of some 700,000 soldiers and military personnel. It had previously only provided community features, but with ATON, it now offers various fintech services such as on/offline linking (O2O), PX payments and finance (insurance enrollment).
This is a crucial year for ATON’s growth. As more financial institutions are choosing ATON’s fintech security solutions, it is important that we make fintech convenient. We are expanding our digital innovation to banks, securities, cards, savings banks, and general IT companies in the second half. We are leading changes in Korea’s fintech industry so people will stop feeling that using these services is difficult or complicated as they have in the past.
- What fintech security is ATON working on for the future?
▲ ATON’s goal is to make the world more convenient with forward-thinking technology. Previous methods of fintech security have transferred the burden of their own vulnerabilities to the customer. This tragedy began with certificates, security cards, OTPs, and similar financial services. ATON is different. With secure element technology, we can significantly increase the level of security to minimize the burden of authentication on customers. We make systems that are reliable so customers can conduct all manner of financial services on their phones without any inconvenience. We want ATON’s SE to be the top choice for smartphone users not just in Korea, but around the world.
◇ATON CEO Kim Jong-seo
CEO Kim Jong-seo graduated from the School of Computer Engineering at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and has a postgraduate degree in Computer Science from the same university. He started out in the financial IT industry in 1995 and became CEO of ATON in 2000.
Mr. Kim decided it was necessary to take the initiative through rapid development and expansion of mobile solutions in the rapidly changing field of information and communications technology. He has taken the lead in developing solutions to offer financial services on mobile devices and introducing them to key financial institutions while innovating in mobile solutions.
ATON continues to release security solutions onto the market so financial institutions and other fintech companies can provide safe financial services. It is leading changes in the fintech market as a platform builder to develop simple certification services and fintech platforms that can be used whenever customer authentication is needed.
Mr. Kim currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Korea Fintech Industry Association and constantly devotes himself to activating and innovating in the Korean fintech market.