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Emerging Europe: Citadele Banka – back from the dead

The bailout of Parex Banka at the height of the financial crisis helped push Latvia into deep recession. Today, reborn as Citadele and with a global all-star cast of owners, the bank is well on the way to becoming a national asset.

Guntis Belavskis-illus-300

Guntis Belavskis, Citadele

Bank headquarters are usually built to impress, but few are as easy on the eye as that of Citadele Banka. Located just to the north of Riga’s Old Town, its elegant proportions glow with warm colour on a steel grey Latvian winter afternoon. 

The men who commissioned German architect Meinhard von Gerkan to design Republikas Laukums 2a, however, never set foot in it. Just one month before the building’s completion in January 2009, the owners of Parex Banka – Citadele’s predecessor – were forced to hand over their shares to the Latvian government following a run on the bank. 

At the time, Guntis Belavskis was head of retail banking at Parex. In the early hours of December 4, 2008, he found himself promoted to the management board after the removal of the previous board by the bank’s new public-sector owners. 

“Later that morning, the shareholders handed me the keys to the office and said: ‘The treasury’s empty. Good luck’,” he recalls. 

Parex’s story is a familiar one. In the boom years before the financial crisis, the bank, like many of its peers, became heavily dependent on wholesale funding.

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