The Slovenia Times

Banks want stable ownership


Blaž Brodnjak, the chairman of the state-owned bank NLB, said the bank was doing "very well". While competition in the home market is tough, the bank is creating opportunities through good performance in the markets of the former Yugoslavia.

"We have the potential to invest with our results," he said, adding that the uncertainty about the bank's privatisation was not an obstacle, but that the bank has had to live with restrictions imposed by the European Commission over the 2013 state bailout.

"I expect reason will prevail and they don't destroy the powerful group," Brodnjak said in reference to the ongoing talks between Slovenia and the European Commission about the fate of the bank.

The government is unlikely to meet the commitment to sell the bank by the end of the year, so several alternative scenarios are possible, the worst of which for the bank would be having to sell its lucrative subsidiaries in the Balkans.

Uncertainty about ownership is also an issue for Gorenjska banka. The bank should have been sold a year ago, but its biggest shareholders are said to be unhappy with the bids unofficially made by the Serbian bank AIK banka and the US equity fund Apollo, which has already acquired the bank NKBM.

"Nonetheless the bank is doing its job competently. Still, we would like to have stable owners because this opens up new opportunities," the bank's chairman Andrej Andoljšek said.

These appear to have opened for the NKBM bank, which was acquired by Apollo and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the spring of 2016.

"The owners strongly support our plans," NKBM chairman John Denhof said, praising the situation in Slovenia, with the strong economic growth, as one of the best in the world at the moment.

He said the bank was able to post growth in basic services, while it was also eyeing new opportunities in all areas, including those where the bank has not been present so far.

Giancarlo Miranda, the outgoing CEO of the Slovenian subsidiary of the Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo, spoke about the opportunities of digitalisation.

Banks must look for opportunities to form joint platforms for standard operations because this is the only way for them to effectively cut costs, he said.

Digitalisation is the main theme of the Days of Slovenian Bankers, organised by the Bank Association. The topic will be also discussed in the afternoon, including the need to simplify operations for customers and adapt legislation.

Bankers also discussed the need to change banks' business models with Andoljšek calling for new solutions and "more courage and innovation".

Meanwhile, banks expect the market regulator to ensure a level playing field for all. Brodnjak pointed to providers from other sectors which provided banking services but are not as regulated as banks.

Bankers showed reservation about cryptocurrencies, which they said involved substantial risks due to the many uncertainties. "We're a systemic institution, our main guideline is security," Brodnjak said.

Other bankers confirmed that this was not their line of business with Andoljšek concluding that banks understood the rise of cryptocurrencies as a "warning of the inefficiency of the existing system".

Miranda expects that the fast growth in operations involving cryptocurrencies will be regulated by markets, while Brodnjak expressed the hope that "Slovenians will pay the lowest possible price".

One of the main opportunities for banks in the future will be asset management. They will also focus on risk management, but Brodnjak said the obstacle was the low interest margin.


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