Are Raiffeisen’s international ambitions over?
Without Russia, Raiffeisen will be a different entity – one focused on safer countries in the former Habsburg heartlands. The low home-market profitability that Russia once served to mitigate, however, will be more evident than ever.
As the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Austria’s Raiffeisen group spearheaded the spread of international banking in what became known as the 'Wild East' of Europe.
It was a period of heady optimism and expansion by Western capitalists, and banks were a central part of it. For a decade and a half after the late 1980s, large US and Western European lenders embarked on a period of ambitious growth in wholesale and retail banking around the world.
When the Berlin Wall fell, Raiffeisen was the biggest banking group in Austria, the developed economy closest to the former communist bloc. That allowed it to play an instrumental role in the transition that swept across the region, first by concentrating on greenfield banks in Austria’s central European neighbours.
The expansion culminated in the mid 2000s, when Herbert Stepic – the charismatic former chairman of Raiffeisen Bank International – led acquisitions of retail banks in Belarus, Ukraine and finally Russia.
Now, with the risk of a new cold war, things are coming full circle.