History of the Raiffeisen Organization


1818–1886 A new era begins

The industrialisation of Austria began between 1800 and 1820, bringing with it huge upheaval in the economy and in the social make-up of the Monarchy. While the size of the economic area and the wealth of raw materials available were conducive to development, progress was hampered by the population’s low purchasing power, nationalist boycotts and the commodity-driven export trade.
 
Hard times – peasant emancipation and agricultural crisis

BauernbefreiungIn the revolutionary year of 1848, a law was passed on agrarian reform. This freed peasants in Austria from the remaining obligations to their landlords.

However, the free peasants were now under pressure from the markets, especially in the Austrian provinces, where cheaper agricultural products from Bohemia and Hungary as well as international imports triggered a sharp fall in prices. In 1870, the grain price plummeted by 80 per cent.

A rapid increase in farm indebtedness commenced, continuing until the turn of the century. Every year, between 5,000 and 10,000 farms owned by debt-stricken farmers were subject to compulsory auction.

At the time, it was almost impossible for farmers to obtain loans at reasonable terms to cover their ongoing capital requirements for items such as seeds, operating resources or repairs. Profiteering was rife, and it was a similar picture in Germany.
 
Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen and his idea

FWRaiffeisenFriedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen was a German social reformer who ascribed great importance to solving this problem. As the mayor of a community in the Westerwald region, he was confronted by the plight of farmers, labourers and craftsmen on a daily basis. Following several relatively unsuccessful charitable endeavours, he became convinced that people’s problems could only be solved by helping them to help themselves.

In line with a model developed by Raiffeisen, the farmers formed cooperatives which were not geared towards profit, but to supporting their members. Members’ savings were pooled in so-called loan fund associations and were available for distribution to members in the form of low-cost long-term loans. This gave many people the first opportunity they had ever had to borrow money for investments or to tide them over in years of meagre harvests.

The next step was the joint purchase of operating resources such as seed and the common storage and sale of agricultural products. This meant that farmers were no longer forced to sell at knock-down prices in times of oversupply, allowing them to wait until prices had recovered.
 

1886–1918 Beginnings of the Raiffeisen idea in Austria

RaiffeisenideeÖsterreichThe first Raiffeisen bank in Austria was founded in 1886 in Mühldorf, near the village of Spitz an der Donau. Its members included farmers, craftsmen, labourers and traders. The bank’s foundation was preceded by a number of congresses which had sought solutions to the agrarian crisis. With the support of the regional state parliaments, which were convinced by the idea, it was not long before numerous Raiffeisen Banks were founded.

Austria’s first warehouse cooperative was founded in Pöchlarn in 1898.

Following the German model, a central association of cooperatives was established in 1898 in line with the Raiffeisen system, and subsequently became known as the "Allgemeiner Verband landwirtschaftlicher Genossenschaften in Österreich" (general association of agricultural cooperatives in Austria).

When the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy collapsed in 1918, there were over 2,000 cooperatives on the territory of what subsequently became the First Republic, and a far greater number in the other succession states.
 
1918–1939 Between the wars

ZwischenkriegszeitIt took some time for the remaining cooperatives in the Republic of Austria to reorganise after the First World War and to overcome the economic challenges of the post-war period.

In 1927, Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank, later tobe renamed Raiffeisen Zentralbank Österreich was established as cooperative central bank.

By 1938, financial independence had been achieved and the establishment of central offices in the Austrian regional states had largely been completed. This meant that the structures were broadly in place which then served as the foundations for rebuilding after the second World War. The annexation of Austria by the Third Reich in 1938 marked the end of cooperative self-determination in the following year.
 
1945–1970 New beginnings in the Second Republic

Following the end of the Second World War, rebuilding work commenced immediately. Many Austrians were suffering from malnutrition, and policymakers gave the cooperatives considerable responsibility for safeguarding the food supply.
The “Allgemeine Verband”, or general association, which was originally founded in 1898, was re-established in 1946. Since 1960, it has traded under the name of "Österreichischer Raiffeisenverband".

In 1961, Raiffeisen Bausparkasse (building society) started trading, becoming one of the first specialist institutions within the Raiffeisen Banking Group. The Raiffeisen Banks began their efforts to acquire customers in population centres. The first Raiffeisenbank in the Austrian capital was established in Wien-Oberlaa, which was then at the border between the city and the countryside.

The first brands were created in the dairy industry. The brands of Raiffeisen dairies such as Schärdinger, Desserta or NÖM are now among the most successful ones in Austria.
 
1970–1986 Modernisation

ModernisierungThe Raiffeisen Banking Group set about modernising its image and pioneered some unprecedented approaches to sponsorship. Rapid Wien became the first football club to be sponsored in Austria. In the subsequent decades, Raiffeisen's advertising strategists have consistently concluded sponsorship agreements with the country's leading sportsmen: Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger, Thomas Muster, Hermann Maier and Marcel Hirscher are the outstanding examples in this regard.

The Raiffeisen Banks were locally based providers of financial services for the entire population, with a growing presence in the urban population centres.

A series of mergers in the dairy and wine industries marked the start of a restructuring process that has continued until the present day.

The Raiffeisen Banking Group embraced modern technology. In 1980, one of the first ATMs in Austria was installed at the Raiffeisen-house in Vienna.

As far back as 1984, initial discussions were held on the possibility of home banking, with the postal service’s BTX system considered as a possible underlying service.

In 1985, the wine scandal sent shockwaves through Austria. Exports collapsed. Although the wine growers’ cooperatives were not involved, they suffered from the loss of confidence in the Austrian wine industry as a whole. Raiffeisen supported the concept developed by the then agriculture minister and subsequent Vice Chancellor Josef Riegler of an environmental and social agrarian policy as an opportunity for Austria's agricultural sector to hold its own against the large agricultural nations.
Raiffeisen supported Austria's accession to the EU.
 
1986–2006 Gradual internationalization

In 1986, RZB founded its first subsidiary bank in Central and Eastern Europe in Hungary.

InternationalisierungIn 1988, the first measures were taken to restructure the Austrian sugar industry with the aim of achieving European standards. These efforts resulted in the foundation of AGRANA, whose future was secured in 1989 thanks to a cross-shareholding with the German firm Südzucker. AGRANA began to develop the sugar and starch industry in Central and Eastern Europe.
In 1989, Austria submitted its application for membership of the EU. Dairies made concerted efforts to bring about structural reform in order to ensure their competitiveness in the event of Austria’s accession to the EU. Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank, founded in 1927, was renamed Raiffeisen Zentralbank Österreich AG (RZB).

1989 The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union. RZB initiated the expansion of its presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

In 1993, Austria’s accession negotiations with the EU began.

The goods associations of the Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria regions jointly established the new “Raiffeisen Ware Austria” (RWA/warehouse group) cooperative association.

In 1995, Austria joined the European Union. In 1998, the Raiffeisen Banking Group launched its internet banking service.
The years 1999 to 2001 saw the largest ever structural changes in Austria’s banking landscape. Many banks were privatised, and the public sector withdrew from its liability commitments. Many banking groups were either wholly or partially taken over by foreign owners.

Raiffeisen was now the second-largest banking group in Austria and the only large banking group in wholly Austrian ownership.

2003: The RZB Group’s geographical presence in Central and Eastern Europe has reached its peak comprising 15 countries with subsidiary banks. In many markets of the region, the Group’s banks are among the leading local financial institutions still.

2005: Initial public offering by Raiffeisen International Bank-Holding AG. The share issue was more than 20-times oversubscribed. There was huge interest, particularly among small investors in Austria.

 
2007–2009 Financial industry under close scrutiny

FinanzwirtschaftPrüfstand2007: The collapse of the US market in subprime real estate loans (loans issued to borrowers with poor credit histories) triggered a global financial crisis on an unprecedented scale.

2008: US investment bank Lehman Brothers failed, prompting a global liquidity squeeze. Mutual mistrust and uncertainty over ongoing developments and the banks’ own requirements caused banks to hoard as much liquidity as possible.
Across the world, governments were obliged to support their financial systems by assuming liability guarantees and providing capital. A political discussion over the systemic relevance of banks (also referred to as “too big to fail”) began, which continues to this day.
The owners of RZB, the Regional Raiffeisen Banks in Austria, strengthened RZB’s equity base with an injection totalling some €900 million.

2009: After a period in which the money market almost ground to a standstill and banks only lent funds to each other over very short terms, the situation eased. Banks issued bonds backed by state guarantees.
RZB further strengthened its capital base by issuing participation certificates with a volume of €1,750 million to the Republic of Austria.
Concerted assistance measures by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for the countries worst affected by the crisis prevented a further increase in risk aversion. International stock markets began their recovery in March 2009, an upswing which continued into 2010.
As at the end of 2009, RZB had established a solid capital and liquidity cushion in preparation for the future.
 
2010 Merger of the business segments of RZB with Raiffeisen International
Raiffeisen Bank International AG is created, RZB remains the lead institute of the Austrian Raiffeisen Banking Group and headquarters for the entire RZB Group.
 
2013 Optimisation of structures and processes

In order to further strengthen and secure the number one position of the Austrian Raiffeisen Banking Group, RZB started a project for optimising structures and workflows in the beginning of 2013. With that, the whole third tier of the Raiffeisen Banking Group came closer together, apart from RZB that is Raiffeisen Bausparkasse, Raiffeisen Kapitalanlage-Gesellschaft (Raiffeisen KAG), Raiffeisen-Leasing, Valida Holding, Raiffeisen Versicherung, Raiffeisen Factor Bank and Raiffeisen Wohnbaubank. The focus was on strengthening the core competences within the affiliated companies: distinct processes, structures and decision making, joint forces and, to sum it up, a sustainable increase in added value for the owners. At the end of December 2014, the project was successfullly closed.

RBI decides on a strategic realignment initiative including a number of steps to increase its capital buffers. The initiative's goal is to facilitate an improvement in the common equity tier1 ratio (fully loaded) to 12 per cent by year-end 2017. The measures include, among others, a sale of the banks in Poland and Slovenia and an exit from the US and Asia. Besides the improved capital position the program shall result in reducing complexity and improving the bank’s risk profile.

2015 – 2017 Transformation program and merger

2015: RBI decides on a strategic realignment initiative including a number of steps to increase its capital buffers. The initiative's goal is to facilitate an improvement in the common equity tier1 ratio (fully loaded) to 12 per cent by year-end 2017. The measures include among others a sale of the banks in Poland and Slovenia and an exit from the US and Asia. Besides the improved capital position the program shall result in reducing complexity and improving the bank’s risk profile.

2016: The Management and Supervisory Boards of RZB and RBI pass an in-principle resolution to merge RZB into RBI. The merged company will continue to be listed on the stock exchange. Sale of the bank subsidiary in Slovenia and the leasing unit in Poland as part of the project "Ambition 2020".

2017: In January, the Extraordinary General Meetings of RZB and RBI approve the merger of the two companies by a clear majority. With the registration of the merger in the commercial register in March, RBI becomes the comprehensive legal successor of RZB in accordance with Austrian law.