The birth of the European Savings and Retail Banking Group is inextricably linked to the birth of the European Union. Officially created on 23 April 1963 as the Savings Banks Group of the European Economic Community, it was the brainchild of German Savings Banks Association President Fritz Butschkau.
He had served on the European Economic and Social Committee since its very first meeting in 1959 and felt it was imperative for Europe's national savings banks associations to work more closely together. President Butschkau was prescient. The European project was well on its way and would result in a new authority whose decisions would impact banking at national and local levels. Savings banks had to get into the game early and band together in order to influence the shape of the European project in terms of how it would govern and take decisions that affected the savings bank sector. At the time, banking laws and the legal forms of banks differed significantly across Europe.
Because the European Commission was going to harmonise the banking sector, the Savings Banks Group of the EEC had to make plain the differences between savings banks, commercial banks and cooperative banks. Its goal was to defend savings banks' interests by making them heard at the Commission. One gauge of our success is that as Europe grew, so did we: we started with six founding members in 1963; 50 years on, ESBG has 26 members in 23 countries.
Thus the original ESBG vision led to an association that not only served to defend, strengthen, and integrate national savings banks associations into a "European" savings and retail banking sector; it also helped Europe to integrate at a fundamental level. For the strength of savings banks rests on the power of people, namely, their customers. No other kind of bank works as closely with the people whom it serves.
We work – and live – in the communities where we operate. We know our customers, our customers know us. They trust us.
What better foundation than a personal relationship for a bank to determine the potential of a small business, the risk of a loan, and to appreciate how important credit is to a local real economy whose drivers we see in action with our own eyes every single day?
And no other kind of bank works more closely with the real economy. Entrepreneurs, innovators, public authorities – regional and responsible savings and retail banks are there to provide fuel to these drivers of the real economy. Linking these drivers across Europe, and defending the interests of the savings banks they use, brought the countries of Europe closer together and helped integrate a crucial element of the banking sector – a sector whose integration continues. A sector that is key to unlocking the full potential of Europe's real economy.
The founding ESBG vision was prescient for another reason: it led to an association that can, and must, play a role in a regulatory environment that is influenced as never before by international institutions: the Basel Committee, the G20, the IMF, the International Accounting Standards Board, and so on. So not only has ESBG influenced the EU institutions but also the international institutions that themselves influence EU regulatory decisions.
Our efforts will proceed on all fronts, because more prospective regulation awaits and ESBG continues to influence policymakers on your behalf and to keep you informed of EU legislative negotiations going on right now. Banking Union, SEPA, prudential measures – these are all critical issues in the evolution of our new banking environment and thus a huge element of ESBG's raison d'être. Thus you can see that far more of ESBG's history in fact lies ahead.
ESBG has built its reputation on a solid half-century of experience serving the savings and retail banking sector in Europe and promoting its interests and crucial role in fuelling the real economy. In commemoration of this watershed moment in the history of ESBG, we asked some of our past and present representatives to share their thoughts and reflections, and we are proud to present them to you here.
>> Download the 50 Years of ESBG Brochure (.pdf)