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BANKING - AFTER EU ACCESSION, PRIVATE AND INVESTMENT BANKS ARE HEADING TO SLOVAKIA

Banking with a personal touch

THE BANKING market in Slovakia may seem crowded with dozens of establishments to choose from. Nevertheless, more are on the way.
After Slovakia entered the European Union, all banks holding a licence from EU member countries could open up shop in Slovakia. Banks new to the Slovak scene started focussing on investment and private banking services, which were far less developed than Slovakia's retail banking market.
The result is a series of international institutions that offer high net worth clients a bank-client relationship with a personal touch.

THE BANKING market in Slovakia may seem crowded with dozens of establishments to choose from. Nevertheless, more are on the way.

After Slovakia entered the European Union, all banks holding a licence from EU member countries could open up shop in Slovakia. Banks new to the Slovak scene started focussing on investment and private banking services, which were far less developed than Slovakia's retail banking market.

The result is a series of international institutions that offer high net worth clients a bank-client relationship with a personal touch.


One bank takes the long way home


Czech bank J&T Banka will establish its first Slovak branch by the end of 2005.

The bank's founder, the Slovak investment company J&T Finance Group, tried to establish a bank in Slovakia in the 1990s but could not get a banking licence from the National Bank of Slovakia.

Consequently, J&T Finance Group looked toward the Czech Republic to expand its business. In 1996, J&T obtained a banking licence through buying a bankrupted bank and set up a successful private banking business in that country. Thanks to Slovakia's accession to the EU, J&T Banka is now coming home to Slovakia.

The bank's decision to expand into Slovakia, says Maroš Sýkora, a spokesperson for J&T Finance Group, is "logical".

"The [J&T] group and its owners have Slovak origins. Everyone's interest was to go back to Slovakia," he told The Slovak Spectator.

The bank's goal is to differentiate itself from some retail banks in Slovakia claiming to provide private banking services.

"Some retail banks just offer the same products for private clients as for current retail clients. For example, they deal with private clients in a special room, or offer them more advantageous interest rates. We believe real private banking goes far beyond that. We offer our clients the chance to create wealth. We work out individual investment projects tailored to our client's needs," Sýkora explained.

Having a certain amount of money in the bank is not the sole criterion for becoming a J&T Banka client. The bank also says clients with less means but growing potential are attractive as well.

"However, the fees are set in a way that services are interesting for only those clients with a certain level of means," Sýkora added.


The bank with the noble name


Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Europe has perhaps the noblest name of all financial institutions.

Headquartered in Luxembourg and registered in Slovakia since January 2005, its clients belong to the richest and most respected set in the world.

So far, its Slovak office is one in name only. It cannot offer services but functions as a mediator for the bank's Western European branches. According to the daily SME, Slovakia's representational office is the only one in Eastern Europe.

Account holders must have at least a six-digit figure in euros in the bank. However, the exact minimum amount for opening an account is considered a bank secret.

Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Europe prides itself on thoroughly investigating the origin of its client's funds.

Svetlana Dankovičová, the director of Bratislava's representation office, told SME that it would not open an account if the bank had any doubts about the cleanliness of the client's money.

The bank's tradition dates back to the 19th century. Apart from financial services, Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Europe's services include schools for children, lawyers, yachts on the French Riviera, luxurious and holiday resorts.


Corporate clients expect HSBC


The international powerhouse, HSBC, opened its branch in Bratislava in June of this year. Although the bank provides retail services, Slovakia's HSBC branches will focus only on corporate clients.

The rise of HSBC on the Slovak financial market likely comes as a response to the increasing number of foreign investors in Slovakia.

Many foreign investors are familiar with HSBC's services back home and are comfortable using the bank abroad.

Karen Ng, a spokesperson for HSBC based in London, told The Slovak Spectator that the Slovak branch would "provide a range of corporate and institutional banking products to local customers as well as overseas customers wishing to invest in Slovakia".

Ng added that HSBC services would include corporate lending and deposit facilities, treasury and capital markets and trade services.

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