CEE banking: Common markets, different products
Differentiation has become the name of the game in emerging Europe as regional banks fight to maintain profitability, but the region’s markets still have much in common.
At the headquarters of the western European houses that dominate banking in the east of the continent, the buzzword for the past two years has been differentiation. The transition economies in the region have followed very different paths in the wake of the financial and eurozone crises, so strategies based on convergence and universal coverage have been abandoned in favour of a tight focus on the most attractive markets and ruthless loss-cutting in those harder hit.
Heading the list of preferred locations have been Poland and the Czech Republic, the former for the sheer size of its market – at 40 million, its population is by far the largest in emerging Europe – and remarkable record of continuous growth throughout the past decade; the latter for the stellar profitability of its banking sector. Czech banks have consistently posted system-wide returns on equity above 20% since 2008, compared with about 15% for second-best performer Poland.
Meanwhile, the black sheep of central and eastern Europe have been Hungary (where relentless government depredations have made profitability nigh on impossible for most banking players since 2010) and Slovenia (whose state-dominated banking sector required a €4.8 billion bailout at the beginning of this year).