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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 28, 2008
SWEDEN IN POLAND
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Providing Tailor-Made Solutions
May 28, 2008   
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A leading bank in the Nordic region, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB (SEB) also holds a dominant position in the Baltic region, including extensive operations in Germany. Founded in 1856 in Sweden, SEB set up office in Poland in 1989 and in the mid-1990s bought a stake in Bank Ochrony Środowiska (BOŚ). Having sold its 47 percent share in BOŚ in 2006, SEB changed its strategy and went into greenfield operations in Poland. Today, it has three branches in Warsaw, Poznań and Katowice and employs 75 people. The bank plans to increase its branch network in Poland and to employ 110 staff within three years.

Jurgen Baudisch, country manager in Poland for Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB, speaks with Jolanta Wolska.

Why did SEB decide to focus on greenfield operations in Poland?
We set out to have a majority stake in BOŚ Bank when we bought a big stake in it in the mid-1990s. We gradually increased our stakes to 47 percent, hoping to get a majority. The remaining shareholders were environmental funds owned by Polish provinces, which decided not to sell their share in BOŚ. Our takeover offer was not accepted in 2006 I believe for political reasons, so we were stuck with our 47 percent. Hence we decided to opt out of greenfield operations.

What potential do you see for the bank in Poland?
Some people say that Poland is "overbanked" and that there is fierce competition. That is true, there are some 60 commercial banks and many cooperative banks. However, the financial results of the banking industry have been developing well in recent years. Two factors have contributed to this. Firstly, after Poland's entry into the European Union, GDP growth was steadily increasing up to a very satisfactory level and is still much higher than in the mature markets. Secondly, we have very low saturation levels of many banking products in Poland, including factoring, leasing or advanced Treasury products, such as sophisticated cash management or foreign exchange.

As we can see in Warsaw, the commercial real estate sector is booming, investors from abroad are coming to Poland-so we have lots of opportunities in the corporate banking area, while at the same time the potential is growing in private banking together with the number of affluent Polish people.

We are not a retail bank; you will not find us on every corner, but we do provide financial services to affluent clients, mainly providing investment products, such as mutual funds, deposits, structured products, and also credit related to equities.

How big is SEB in Sweden?
We are a leading corporate bank in Sweden and in Scandinavia, and employ 20,000 people in 20 countries. We are also among the market leaders in the Baltic countries, and based on those home markets we believe that Poland is a perfect fit-particularly because we have also recently bought a second bank in Ukraine, and we increased our capital and activities in Russia. For many Nordic, Baltic and German clients, Poland is very much linked with Russia and Ukraine, it is a kind of springboard for them-first into Poland, then to Ukraine, and Russia.

What are your strengths?
We provide advice to our clients with established methodologies. In Cash Management for example, we use the concept called Cash Management Value Chain. It means that we look into the costs and payments for all banking and we identify the reasons for those costs. Generally, banks and their clients talk about interest and bank charges, and that is all. But when you run your business there are also many hidden internal client costs, such as administration, when you need many people on the HR side to reconcile incoming payments, which costs much more than bank charges. We try to find out what are the total costs and how we can reduce them, which is usually by improving the processes. We are like an external advisor, we provide an analysis of company processes, then we benchmark it, compare their setup with the market and best practices and come up with a solution. That is our philosophy.

Here we are among the big world players. Another example is our Foreign Exchange platform (FX) which is an internet solution where our clients can follow the market and deal in it on the internet. Our unique feature is that we guarantee the price for 30 seconds, and also clients can deal in small amounts and the service is free of charges. Clients can see in real time how the currencies are changing, and also what price SEB charges and then what our profit is. We do not hide our costs nor our profits. It gives our clients a high degree of transparency. Transparency is very Swedish and we want to be a fair business partner.

What are the hallmarks of a Swedish company?
We have four core values: commitment, continuity, professionalism and mutual respect. This works on two levels-in how we deal with our clients and also how we treat our employees.

Mutual respect is the value where we probably differ from other countries the most. It means that we are transparent, that we help our employees develop and that we create an atmosphere that is friendly and we look to people to come up with their own ideas.

How do Polish staff compare with Swedish workers?
I would say that Polish employees are as good as in any other country. One difference is significant, and that is age. In Poland and other Central European countries, it is difficult to find employees over 50 years of age. Another difference is that Polish candidates are exceptionally well educated, usually have more than one degree, have studied abroad, know several languages and at the age of 29 sometimes have up to 10 years of experience.

Does SEB have a corporate social responsibility policy?
Yes we do. We look whether our client's business dealings are in line with our social and environmental policy. They can be critical areas when it is an environmental issue for example in the mining industry in some parts of the world. We regularly support social projects. We have established a mentoring program for high-school students in Sweden in which we give these young people maybe the most precious thing one can share today - our time. We do that to help them understand adult world better, develop their thoughts about the future and come up with new goals.
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