BAWAG Forging Ahead and Staying at the Forefront of Banking Strategy by Maintaining a Long-Term Focus

People, patience, and profits are all allied for Austria’s burgeoning BAWAG banking group.

Austria’s BAWAG has emerged as one of Europe’s most profitable and efficient banking groups, with a straightforward goal: to provide transparent and affordable financial products and services. The strategic pillars it has defined at the beginning of the transformation in 2012 have remained consistent since then. Anas Abuzaakouk, CEO of BAWAG Group, explains, “We are a multi-brand and multi-channel banking group focused on developed and mature markets in the DACH/NL region, Western Europe, and the US, with a strong emphasis on retail and SME banking. We aim to provide our customers with simple, transparent, and affordable financial products and services they need and that promote their financial health.  Our unwavering commitment has always been, and will continue to be, delivering consistent and reliable results for all our stakeholders.

BAWAG Group: Headquarters at Wiedner Gürtel 11, 1100 Vienna, Austria. Photographer: Henning Kreft

BAWAG Group: Headquarters at Wiedner Gürtel 11, 1100 Vienna, Austria. Photographer: Henning Kreft

Disciplined Capital Allocation

Disciplined capital allocation is a cornerstone of BAWAG’s strategy. “Our robust profitability underpins our capital distribution plans,” states Abuzaakouk. “We strategically deploy this capital to invest in our business and teams, provide credit to our customers, grow our business through acquisitions, and return value to our shareholders. Being good stewards of capital means being prudent in our distribution strategies, maintaining a strong and resilient balance sheet, and always being prepared to capitalize on great opportunities for the franchise.

Impressive Growth and Acquisitions

Since its IPO in 2017 thru year-end 2023, BAWAG has extended €47 billion in credit to its customers, supporting their needs, while expanding the franchise. “We have also self-funded nine acquisitions and signed two further acquisitions in 2024,” adds Abuzaakouk. The bank has consistently increased its dividend, starting at €0.60 per share for 2017 and reaching €5.00 per share for 2023, distributing €19.70 per share in dividends (€1.7 billion in total dividends). Additionally, BAWAG has completed 3 share buybacks, equal to €900 million, reducing its overall share capital by over 21 percent since the IPO.

In February 2024, BAWAG Group signed a transaction to acquire digital bank Knab from ASR Nederland NV. Knab, founded in 2012, has developed a strong brand and loyal customer base by addressing the Dutch self-employed market. “This deal will expand our DACH/NL footprint,” says Abuzaakouk, “building out our customer franchise, and allowing us to grow the business and earnings.” In July 2024, BAWAG Group announced to acquire Hamburg-based Barclays Consumer Bank Europe from Barclays Bank Ireland PLC. “This acquisition provides us with a German consumer lending platform focused on credit cards, personal loans, and savings products across a large and diverse customer base. The two acquisitions signed will expand BAWAG Group’s footprint in the DACH/NL region as well as its share of the Retail & SME business “, comments Abuzaakouk.

Commitment to its environmental and social footprint and Managing Non-Financial Risks

BAWAG remains committed to its 2025 ESG targets, laid out in 2021. When setting those goals, the aim was to set a positive example for peers and customers to reduce our environmental footprint and to promote female leadership. . “The targets support our customers in their own green transition, capturing environmental risks in our underwriting and limit-setting, maintaining a meritocratic culture as well as increasing female representation across the senior leadership team.

Being safe and secure is not limited to balance sheet numbers or regulatory KPIs for BAWAG. It’s also about embedding a strong governance framework to minimize non-financial risks, whether AML- or ESG-related. “We continuously enhance our governance structure as well as risk management frameworks to address these risks, with climate risk having gained importance for all stakeholders. We will continue to integrate environmental factors, as we enhance our data collection and underwriting to account for emerging climate risks.” BAWAG Group’s business model is focused on retail banking and therefore BAWAG has very limited exposure to high-emitting GHG sectors. We are committed to further reduce our environmental footprint as a joint effort with our clients.

Social Engagement and Community Support

BAWAG recognizes the importance of tackling environmental threats and socio-economic inequalities. “The team’s efforts around social engagement resulted in a record year of both financial support and volunteerism,” says Abuzaakouk. In 2023, BAWAG surpassed 3,700 hours of corporate volunteering, with efforts focused on partnering with various organizations to support under-served communities and promote financial literacy.

These partnerships have been rewarding for all involved — and BAWAG has committed to providing financial and volunteer support in the coming years. It also supported disaster-relief efforts in 2023, helping communities across 19 municipalities in Austria which suffered from floods. “To further develop our community outreach programs, the management board and extended management board collectively donated €1 million, matched in full by the bank, to fund the various social programs.

Unique Culture and Leadership

BAWAG’s strength stems from its unique culture, blending its heritage with a spirit of entrepreneurship, accountability, meritocracy, and inclusion. “Our senior leadership team, 98-strong, has led our transformation over the past decade,” says Abuzaakouk. The bank promotes a simple and flat organizational structure, encouraging team members to challenge the status quo for the betterment of the team.

Accountability, meritocracy, and inclusion are integral to BAWAG’s corporate identity. The team represents 53 nationalities, with a female representation of 32 percent in senior leadership and 55 percent across the entire organization. BAWAG fosters an environment where the best and brightest individuals thrive, embracing change as the only constant.

BAWAG helps its employees develop professionally, promoting diversity, meritocracy, and a sense of ownership. The bank embraces a culture of continuous learning and improvement, actively seeking feedback and striving to enhance skills and processes over time. This ownership mentality is bolstered by employee stock grants and matching programs, with a focus on retaining and attracting top talent. BAWAG’s consistent strategy, dedication to disciplined and profitable long-term growth,  and strong corporate culture ensures it remains at the forefront of the banking industry.

Outlook

BAWAG is competing in a European banking industry that is undergoing transformational changes. “The coming years will see rapid shifts as the traditional model is disrupted by advancing technologies, shifting customer behaviors, new engagement methods, and the widespread adoption of AI across all facets of our business,” says Abuzaakouk. To stay competitive, BAWAG focuses on operational excellence, embracing user-friendly technology, and optimizing processes. “We consistently invest in growth and efficiency to expand our advisor focused branch network and remain competitive as the banking landscape evolves,” he adds. “One thing is certain about the future: it promises continuous change. Commercial banking is increasingly becoming a business where financial institutions can leverage technology to create seamless processes across various platforms. While the focus of the first years of our transformation was right sizing the business, we pivoted to international expansion and acquiring complimentary businesses in 2015. With the two acquisitions signed in 2024, we have planted the seeds for the continued profitable future growth of BAWAG Group and I am convinced that our best years lie ahead of us.“


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