Central and Eastern Europe: NLB chief finds opportunities in Balkans
Slovenian market leader eyes further regional expansion after the purchase of Serbia’s Komercijalna Banka.
Waning interest in the western Balkans from emerging Europe’s biggest banking players is creating opportunities for local groups, the chief executive of Slovenia’s NLB tells Euromoney.
Blaz Brodnjak points to NLB’s acquisition of Komercijalna Banka from the Serbian state, which was announced at the end of February, as an example.
The deal was expected to attract interest from western European groups such as Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) and Erste. In the event, however, NLB emerged as the only serious bidder for Serbia’s fourth-largest lender.
“The Komercijalna Banka privatization was a litmus test,” says Brodnjak, who has led NLB since 2016. “The fact that, apart from ourselves, there was no credible strategic interest in the bank shows there is little appetite for investing in the region.”
He attributes this lack of enthusiasm to the size and complexity of markets such as Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia. Even Serbia, by far the largest market in the region, has a population of just seven million and total banking sector assets of €30 billion.
“The big players can’t afford management attention for these small, fragmented markets,” says Brodnjak.