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Western Europe banking: KBC's Thijs models an ROE champion for Europe

After being bailed out with €7 billion, KBC has bounced back to become one of western Europe’s most profitable banking groups. Much of the credit goes to Johan Thijs. But is the real test of his bank/insurer model yet to come?

Illustration: Kevin February

Even by the standards of modern bank executives, Johan Thijs seems unusually fond of management models. In the course of a wide-ranging interview, the head of KBC Group initiates Euromoney into the mysteries of the bank insurance pyramid, the ‘Pearl’ cultural strategy and the performance diamond (embedded in the risk framework). 

From some CEOs, this might sound like a bad case of business-school capture, but Thijs is a very convincing man. For one thing, his energy is palpable. He dashes around his large corner office, ransacking devices for screenshots. He formulates elaborate metaphors complete with hand gestures (the bank insurance zipper). He uses wall charts as visual aids. He scribbles diagrams on scraps of paper. 

He also has an excellent eye for detail, as well as a sense of humour. He instantly spots that your correspondent is making notes with a pen bearing the logo of another bank with an emerging Europe network. When coffee is brought in, Euromoney’s comes with a KBC branded pen. “All the students in Belgium love them because they work so well,” says Thijs.

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