Volksbank targets local, Maghreb
markets and establishes local commercial presence
Newly appointed Volksbank Malta Managing Director Herbert
Skok speaks to DAVID LINDSAY about the banks ambitious plans for
the local market spurred by its onshore move, for which the bank was
granted a licence just last November. Mr Skoks appointment falls
in line with the banks new strategic directions given his extensive
experience in commercial and international banking
Österreichische Volksbanken is 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 due to
a number of innovative policies for private and corporate clients.
Herbert Skoks appointment as Volksbank Maltas Managing Director
comes at an opportune moment for what was previously a lesser known,
offshore version of what the bank is today and of what it expects to
become in the future.
Since it was granted a licence to act as an onshore bank in November
last year, the bank has set about reorganising its operations with a
view to fine tuning and boosting its operations where necessary with
additional staff and new premises.
Now diverting some 60 to 65 per cent of its resources to the local commercial
sector, Volksbank Malta aims to firmly establish itself as a well-known
local commercial bank by the end of the fiscal year.
But this commercial aspect is just one of the three prongs of Volksbank
Maltas business strategy the others concentrating largely
on business activities with the Maghreb states of North Africa and another
focusing on the wider aspects of international business.
While Mr Skoks history with Volksbank Malta is to date relatively
short, his service with its mother company, the ÖVAG Group, is
both long and wide-ranging.
Mr Skok joined Österreichische Volksbanken AG in 1980 as Global
Head for Treasury and Security Business. Speaking about his career to
date, Mr Skok says, "In line with my duties as Treasury Sector
Manager I spent a lot of time abroad, visiting North America, Asia and
nearly all parts of Europe, including the area of the former Soviet
Union where we were successful in generating good business for the Group."
Apart from his experience in foreign exchange and securities trade,
Mr Skok also has extensive knowledge in correspondent banking and international
financing. He regularly attended special lectures and training seminars
for application in the field of personnel management, and also acted
as special trainer for the Österreichische Volksbanken Academy
for the training of future business managers of the member banks.
In 1998, Mr Skok was appointed a Board Member of Volksbank Czech Republic,
another subsidiary of Österreichische Volksbanken AG with offices
all over the Czech Republic. Here he was responsible for treasury, securities
department, research, loan administration, international desk and commercial
administration. During his tenure, the number of branches within the
Czech Republic was increased considerably in the major business areas.
Mr Skok has left Volksbank Czech Republic, where the Group now employs
some 450 people in 20 branches across the country, to take up his new
position as Managing Director of Volksbank Malta Limited - after being
asked to take up the challenge by Group Chairman Dr Klaus Thalhammer.
Mr Skok explains how the Group was looking for someone with his experience,
"He [Thalhammer] needed a person who on the one hand had a sound
knowledge of all aspects of international business, while also being
knowledgeable on retail business."
Since being granted its onshore licence, Volksbank Malta has begun reorganising
its operations. Mr Skok explains, "With the move we have introduced
a complete reorientation of the bank. First of all we decided to establish
ourselves as a commercial bank in the whole sense of the phrase, but
we also wanted to provide domestic local residents with all the banking
products available on todays market.
"Our second goal is to service the North African states and Turkey.
In view of this goal we have taken on a new colleague, Barbaros Oclay,
who is responsible for servicing the large deals in North Africa and
Turkey and will be concentrating specifically on increasing this type
"This, of course, will take a lot of work, but he is the right
person for the job as he is already experienced having served
as vice-chairman of a large Turkish bank in the past. Dr Thalhammer
was very astute to have brought a person with his knowledge of international
business on board in Malta.
"Our third goal, meanwhile, is to strengthen other aspects of our
Volksbank Maltas onshore move has necessitated a sweeping reorganisation
of the bank, with a restructured organigram and premises being sought.
Mr Skok explains, "We are also building our own internal audit
and risk management teams, all of which used to be carried out by our
Viennese colleagues who would visit Malta frequently to carry out audits
and to compile reports. However, now that we are building our business
to such an extent, decisions will be able to be taken quicker and these
teams will have to be based in Malta.
"We are also in the process of changing our premises, which has
been approved by the board and the head office in Vienna. We will remain
in Sliema but we are looking for new premises that will render Volksbank
more visible, such as a location on the waterfront or Strand. It is
important that we are in a more visible place where people will familiarise
themselves with us, now that we are acting as a commercial bank. New,
smaller branches are also planned for other localities such as Valletta
Volksbanks competitors cannot help but notice the Bank moving
forward in big steps, but each step requires a good deal of preparation,
with information technology being one example.
Mr Skok explains, "Our IT technology is perfectly suited to the
operations we have carried out in the past, but with our increasing
operations we will have to make a large capital investment in this area.
"But one main advantage, as in many other areas, is that the Group
as a whole has a wide range of experience in the field. Our other outlets
in Central and Eastern European countries are using the same systems
we are, so the Group is already informed about what to do, when to do
it and where to get it. This is one small example of how we can utilise
the extensive knowledge and experience of the Group."
Volksbank has its eyes firmly fixed on the local market. Mr Skok explains,
"All the traditional banking products offered by the other banks
in Malta will have to be introduced and those we dont have will
have to be implemented. But you have to keep in mind that we received
our onshore licence just last November so we have to have some time
to set these things up.
"However, our range of term deposits and savings accounts are very
popular with our international and Maltese customers. We have decided
that the bank will now also offer these products in Maltese Liri. Being
located in Malta, it is logical that we should also offer our wide range
of services in the local currency. In the near future, the Bank will
announce new products such as a home loan scheme with some attractive
features which we are sure will find favour with Maltese customers."
Volksbank Malta Ltd started introducing its new products and services
in the local currency by offering term deposits in local currency as
from 1 September 2003.
"We are very keen to be seen as a local bank with the backing,
knowledge and experience of an international group. We are certain that
we can offer good terms for domestic and business customers in all areas
of banking operations.
"We are very confident that Maltese customers will find us as a
viable alternative for their banking and investment requirements. With
a share capital of EUR167 million, the bank has a solid base from which
to expand its operations. With the support and experience of our local
staff as well as the backing of Volksbank in Austria, we have all the
resources to offer our Maltese customers a wide range of local and international
What does Mr Skok see in the next year of operations for Volksbank Malta?
"Generally speaking we see the further development in serving the
North African states, which are well covered with good deals already
on the books. Our other international business should grow along the
same lines as well.
"But we have put most of our resources, some 60 to 65 per cent,
on our domestic services so that we truly become a Maltese Volksbank
so that by the end of this financial year we will be known as a commercial
bank operating on the local market."