South Koreans get scientific about finding love
(Reported In Singapore Newspaper: The Straits Times – 17 Jan 2007)
SEOUL – A South Korean matchmaking firm has come up with a computer system which it says can help singles find spouses the scientific way.
After obtaining information on an applicant’s academic qualifications, job, salary and other personal details, the computer tosses up a ‘competitive index’ rating indicating the person’s desirability.
From its database, the computer then throws up a batch of photos of potentially compatible partners.
Invariably, though, a high-scoring man is likely to land a pretty catch, while a good-looking woman will snag a man with deep pockets.
The system, named Shiny, is the brainchild of Mr Lee Woong Jin, who owns Sunoo, the country’s second largest matchmaking company, with about 20,000 members.
He told The Straits Times: ‘Shiny is able to objectively analyse our members and provide compatible matches. Computers are better than people in this area.’
One in 10 meetings proposed by his staff results in a date, but the figure rises to one in three when computers do the job.
Over the past 16 years, the company has seen about 10,000 marriages among its members, but it is still early days for Shiny, which cost US$10 million (S$15.4 million) to set up.
South Korea’s matchmakers are pouring big money into new ideas, because there are huge returns to reap in a country where busy singles have little time to socialise.
According to the Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs, two in five couples who married between 1998 and 2003 met through matchmakers.
About 1,000 agencies rake in more than 50 billion won (S$82.6 million) a year, a 20 per cent increase since the late 1990s.
Some agencies send staff to university convocation ceremonies to seek out the top graduands and offer them free services, knowing that they will be highly sought after.
Even banks get in on the act, with some providing free matchmaking services for children of clients who deposit more than US$100,000.
Sunoo is anticipating a windfall from its investment in Shiny, which allows users to go online and pay for every step leading to a date.
The client starts out paying 20,000 won to key in a long list of personal particulars, including a description of his dream home, how much alcohol he consumes, and if he consults fortune tellers.
When the information is processed and the photographs of potential partners pops up, names or contact numbers are not revealed as yet.
If the client spots someone he likes, he can then send a greeting via Shiny to the person by paying 300 won for a text message and 700 won for a message with a graphic.
The recipient can then go to Shiny to check out the sender. If both agree to meet, the sender must pay 30,000 won to get the other person’s contact number.
After they meet, Shiny will ask both for feedback. Members pay 1,000 won a day to stay in circulation in the system.
A beaming Mr Lee said: ‘Since Shiny started operations in April, it has brought in an average of US$80,000 a month.’
On top of that, clients seeking personal counselling from one of his 60 ‘couple managers’ pay up to 3 million won for services that include access to Shiny.
The cost did not deter bank teller Park Jin Na, 30.
‘The matching process filters out unsuitable people, and I am willing to pay more to save time,’ she said.
One of the system’s strong selling points is that it claims to verify crucial data such as a member’s job, academic qualifications and marital status.
Sunoo has access to the databases of the Registry of Marriages and 240 universities across South Korea to check the background of its applicants.
New clients must also fax a letter from their employers to certify what they do and how much they earn before getting a date through Shiny.
Mr Lee said: ‘Such measures enhance our credibility and give our members greater peace of mind.’
The matchmaking agencies’ methods are not without critics.
They have come under fire for refusing to accept disabled or bald men and non-graduates as clients.
Last year, the two biggest matchmaking companies, Sunoo and Duo, were sued for discrimination.
Lawyer Kim Joo Kwan, who is disabled in one leg, complained: ‘They refused to accept me, citing their standards. This is against the basic human right of equality and against our law.’
The firms defended rejecting him.
Mr Lee said: ‘Even if we accept the disabled, it will be a waste of the client’s money because he is not going to get a date anyway. Call it stereotyping, but we are just reflecting society’s standards.’
Others have slammed Shiny for the way it is programmed to match well-off men with good-looking women, leaving the rest to take their chances.
‘They are reinforcing the stereotype that only a rich man gets the beauty,’ said Busan National University Professor Choi Yoon Tae, who has done research on the matchmaking industry.
The Shiny desirability index ranges from zero to a perfect score of 100.
A man’s ability – his job, salary and academic qualifications – is given a 50 per cent weightage, while the rest is evenly split between his looks and family background.
For a woman, however, looks count for half the score, with the rest split between her abilities and family background.
‘In other words, they are saying that women want men for their money and men favour beauties with no money over ugly women with a fortune,’ said Prof Choi.
But Sunoo’s head of public relations, Ms Roh Kyung Sun, insists that there is only so much a computer can do, no matter how it is programmed.
There are no guarantees that a computerised match will lead to marriage.
‘We can improve the odds, but a relationship depends a lot on personal chemistry that is impossible to quantify,’ she said.
LOVE BYTES: According to the Korean Institute of Health and Social Affairs, two in five couples who married between 1998 and 2003 met through matchmakers. — REUTERS
MASTER MATCHMAKER: Mr Lee Woong Jin owns Sunoo, South Korea’s second largest matchmaking company.