CEE banking: Go big or go home
Bulk up, or leave it to those with the finances and the commitment to the region to see if they can make a success of it.
What is the point of owning small banks in obscure markets? It’s a question western banking groups have been asking themselves ever since the financial crisis finally called time on a decade-long dash for assets across central and eastern Europe.
Unsurprisingly, they all came to the same conclusion. Time and again over the last 10 years, the heads of western groups have told Euromoney that in a diverse and developing region, where few countries can boast a population of more than 10 million, scale is a necessity.
This is clearly correct. It can make little sense to wrestle with the regulatory and political complexity of markets such as Serbia or even Romania for the sake of a 5% market share. Yet while subscribing publicly to the new orthodoxy, bank executives have been reluctant to give up on their CEE empires.
Those from further afield have been more proactive. Citi made rapid exits from its retail banking operations across the region, while General Electric also lost little time after the financial crisis in clearing house in emerging Europe.
Western Europeans seem to find it more difficult to let go.