As Competition Retreats, Polish Banks Should Seize the Moment and Go International.

Wojciech Sobieraj, CEO of Alior Bank, has not been quite in such a good shape since launching Sync, a new online and mobile brand, four years ago when he shared his glowing visions of banking combined with new technologies. His enthusiasm wore off with time to the point where he began to show some symptoms of job burnout.
He would claim that banking was finished, overregulated and starting to resemble the pharmaceutical business. But recently he has visibly got a new lease of life. He again talked a great deal about infinite opportunities for growth for Alior and the entire Polish banking business at a review conference following the third quarter. Talking about his bank, he announced organic growth and acquisitions that may become effective still this year. Alior is looking at two small banks with the aggregate assets in the order of PLN 3 billion, that is as much as Alior’s recent addition, Meritum, had on its balance. The merger with that bank injected a new spirit into Alior.
The small Meritum Bank, which specialised in cash loans, run on an excellent IT engine, which it had been fitted with at the onset of its operations when it was intended to be a universal institution. Now Alior thrives on those resources and is investing in their expansion. PLN 42 million—this is the worth of outlays that Alior is planning to throw at a new online and mobile banking system slated to be launched at the end of the next year’s summer. This is more than the Bank allocated to the IT system and the launch of Sync altogether.
Alior’s CEO believes that banking services, which have been brought up to very high standards, higher than in many other countries across Europe, are well positioned to become a Polish export product. We have the right know-how and human resources and are only in want of capital but there are ways to go about it.
“This is a good time to go out and raise capital from international markets. If I were to say that I was building Alior in Serbia, I would be quite likely to get the money. They say, we don’t have any specific export industry. But thousands of IT specialists work for the largest banks in the world from services centres in Poland. Why not for the Polish banks? Give me one reason why Raiffeisen is present in Poland and PKO BP is not in Austria,” asks Alior’s CEO.
In his opinion, the consolidation process in the banking sector is bound to continue and accelerate next year. When asked whether the domestic capital should be part of this process, he answers that the right question is whether we want to have the bank decision-making centre to be based in Warsaw or not. He thinks that the consolidation of the domestic market does not get in the way with plans of expansion abroad, and the “minimum target is to replace Austrian banks in the region”, as those banks themselves are now contracting their operations on the local markets. He gives the Turkish way of growth in the banking sector as a role model: from consolidation around strong national institutions to foreign expansion.
“Does LPP stand a chance to become a Polish Zara? Yes, it does. Can Maspex become a strong group managing many local brands? Yes, it can. Why don’t we have a Coca-Cola of banking?” asks Wojciech Sobieraj.