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25 Years in an ‘Important Place Where Growth is Possible’

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Commerzbank Zrt. celebrated its 25th anniversary in Hungary with a number of events for clients and employees.

Klaus Windheuser (left) and Michael Reuther.

The bank became one of the first Western European financial institutions to found a wholly-owned subsidiary in Hungary in 1993 (for two years prior to that, it had been represented by a local office). Since opening, Commerzbank has been located in a historical landmark building on Széchenyi rakpart.  

“As the market leader in Germany’s SME sector and in the financing of foreign trade, we also want to offer our clients personal points of contact for their activities as they navigate business opportunities in Hungary,” said Klaus Windheuser, chairman and CEO of Commerzbank Hungary, marking the anniversary.  

“We are pleased to have been able to support our clients in and out of Hungary for 25 years. Via the Commerzbank Group we are connected with the whole world. Our international positioning and expertise in more than 50 countries worldwide allows us to offer clients access to more markets and strong distribution capabilities – more than many of our competitors do.”  

With around 110 staff in Hungary, Commerzbank says it concentrates on providing corporate clients with customized financing and cash management solutions, as well as structured interest rate, exchange rate and hedging of country risks. In addition to its Danube-side headquarters in Budapest, Commerzbank is also active in Kecskemét, Miskolc, and Győr.  

Importantly, the commercial traffic is two-way. As well as providing German and international clients with a gateway to do business in Hungary, the bank also serves both local and international clients that want to do business in Germany and around the globe. Approximately half of the client base are Hungarian companies while the other half is made up of international clients, the majority of which have a German background, Windheuser says.

Commercial DNA

As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, Michael Reuther, a member of the board of managing directors at German parent Commerzbank AG, and the man responsible for Business Segment Corporate Clients, was in town. Among other things, he spoke to an exclusive round table event for local media, to which the Budapest Business Journal was invited. He made the point that the bank was established in 1870 by German merchants, an important distinction that remains in the DNA of today’s business. “Commerzbank’s was not founded by financial people, but by business people, and that is why we are so close to commerce today.”

As a result of that DNA and the close ties market ties between Germany and Hungary (in 2017, more than one quarter of Hungarian foreign trade was conducted with Germany; 27% of direct investment is accounted for by Germany, with more than 6,000 German companies active in Hungary), Commerzbank says it plays an important role in both export-oriented Hungarian and German SME sectors.  

Revenues in Hungary increased by approximately 10% last year. Alongside the loans business, revenues were largely generated by the trade finance and foreign exchange segment. The loan volume in Hungary currently amounts to approximately EUR 2 billion, Windheuser estimates.

Asked to rate the significance of the Hungarian business, Reuther noted that, after Germany, Poland is Commerzbank’s “second home market” and a place “where we are very strong. After that, Hungary and Czech Republic are next in terms of importance. So, Hungary is an important place where growth is possible.… The [sectoral bank] taxes are not very helpful, but they have been reduced and they are not preventing is from doing business here.”

Double Digit Growth

Looking to the future, Windheuser said he is targeting “double digit growth” for the bank. “We have sector knowledge and can use this. We understand the business models and challenges of corporates and we can help a lot more. We have a lot of research that is very valuable for this market.” The aim would be to “grow on the profit side with as little capital expenditure as possible”.

Although the German business is heavily involved with startups, and even has a FinTech incubator, Windheuser said that is not the case in Hungary. “But if I saw a good FinTech [in Hungary] I would definitely contact them with the incubator to see if there could be some collaboration.”

Both Reuther and Windheuser noted potential geopolitical instability, particularly the trade war between the United States and China, and the potential of something similar between America and Europe.

“Recession will inevitably come,” Reuther said, but he believes lessons have been learned and the financial world is better placed to whether such a storm, whenever it should come. “There is now much more capital in the banks than in 2008.” But the system “is not completely immune: if you look at the debt markets, there is still a lot of debt out there.” 

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