Erste Bank: The discreet charms of the bourgeoisie
In barely a decade, Erste Bank has gone from being a purely Austria-focused savings bank to a regional retail banking powerhouse. Guy Norton charts its rise to prominence and asks: where does it go next?
Champion of the retail banking revolution
MIDDLE CLASS AND proud of it. That’s the unapologetic claim of Andreas Treichl, chief executive of Austria’s Erste Bank and the man who has overseen a transformation in the bank’s fortunes over the past decade. At first glance, it’s perhaps an unlikely and even arguably an unwished-for boast for a bank headquartered in Vienna, a city that more than any other in the so-called Old Europe has attempted to throw off its fusty imperial past and sought to position itself it as the gateway to the hip, happening world of the soi-disant New Europe.
Closer inspection, however, reveals that on a practical level Erste’s ambition to be the bank of choice for the emergent middle class of central and eastern Europe is one lined with a gilt-edged future. The bank has pursued it with undoubted passion. Although its roots go back to 1819, making it Austria’s oldest financial institution, there’s nothing old-fashioned about the bank.
Its headquarters are on the site of a house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote Die Abführung aus dem Serail in 1781, but the bank arguably has more in common with the late lamented Austrian popster Falco, whose annoyingly infectious hit Rock Me Amadeus showed that Vienna could against all odds have a popular – not to mention profitable – and modern take on its past.