18 June 2003

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Volksbank Malta – in the right place at the right time

A high level delegation from Österreichische Volksbanken, of which Volksbank Malta is a subsidiary, was recently in Malta. David Lindsay caught up with Österreichische Volksbanken Director General Dr Klaus Thalhammer, Senior Vice President for International Business Development Barbaros Olcay and Dr Hans Hofinger – President of the Confederation Internationale des Banques Populaires and discovers how Volksbank Malta fits into the Group’s plans for trans-regional trade

Österreichische Volksbanken is undoubtedly one of the largest banking groups of central Europe. Its Malta subsidiary, Volksbank Malta – first set up as an off shore bank in 1995 – made the move on shore just last year, with a considerable amount of success and innovative policies.
But while Volksbank Malta undoubtedly has its eyes set on the local market, it is also looking to tap into the lucrative trade potentials arising as a result of Malta’s EU membership next year, and to serving to bridge the gap between Europe and the emerging markets of the Maghreb region and Turkey.
The concept recently brought a high level delegation from Österreichische Volksbanken to Malta, accompanied by a group of Austrian journalists, with a view to acquainting the Austrian press with Volksbank Malta’s operations.
Österreichische Volksbanken Director General Dr Klaus Thalhammer explains, "The idea behind the trip is to familiarise Austrian journalists with the business climate in Malta and to demonstrate the sound capabilities of Volksbank Malta.
"This is being done to highlight the fact that Malta has a very good opportunity to serve as a link between Europe and the Maghreb region of North Africa. Our main goal here is to channel business between Europe and the Maghreb through Volksbank Malta."
Volksbank Malta does indeed appear to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, the Confederation Internationale des Banques Populaires President Dr Hans Hofinger –the CIBP has as members some 45,000 member banks in the four corners of the world - including Österreichische Volksbanken, also views Malta as an important business platform for CIBP members for the region.
Dr Hofinger comments that if a mere one third of CIBP’s tens of thousands of member banks were to utilise this channel, there is indeed great potential for Volksbank Malta on the cards.
Dr Thalhammer adds, "Our goal is not only to provide services to Austrian firms, but we are also taking into consideration trade flows between Hungary and Libya, or Slovenia and Tunisia for example.
"These trade flows would be routed through Malta. We have subsidiaries in Hungary, Slovakia, in the Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland and just recently we signed a purchase agreement concerning a bank in Serbia.
"This means the numerous opportunities in Morocco, Libya and Algeria give us the possibility to do business in a very significant market - Poland alone has a market of 130-140 million people.
"I also see Malta as a very good link in this context. Our intention when we first came to Malta was to capitalise on the Maltese sense of the culture and language of these Arabic countries – in line with our Group motto: to know your customer.
"While we were here in Malta we also received a great deal of information on tax benefits and advantages in place. I believe that, from our point of view, the Maltese government is doing a very good job in this sphere."
Barbaros Olcay – Senior Vice President for International Business Development comments, "Naturally Austria is our home market but we are also very active in all of Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy, France and many other countries through our partnership banks in the CIBP. As a relatively new idea, our chairman decided to work more closely in the developing markets of North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey and maybe in the near future countries like Russia and the Ukraine.
"We want to channel the business coming from these areas through all our member banks and through Volksbank Malta. One mustn’t see Volksbank Malta as just a Volksbank Malta, because we have the ability to gain access to the whole of Western and Eastern Europe."
What does Dr Thalhammer see in the future for Österreichische Volksbanken, its Malta operations aside?
"We would like to stick to a very decentralised system and remain the very transparent, flexible and quick decision-making Group that we are today.
"Many in the industry today believe the next generation in banking will only be done on the basis of IT and telephone. However, our belief is that even the core banking services should always be for people, through people."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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