05 Feb Austria is banking on an international future for investments
Helmut Bernkopf and Angelika Sommer-Hemetsberger are directors of the board at Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG (OeKB)
Could you tell us about the development and current state of Austria’s financial services industry?
HB: The 2008 financial crisis and 2009 was a low period; the whole European banking sector was affected, but generally we have kept going upward. The weak economy was problematic, but in 2016, when finally all the Austrian and European measures took effect, we were able to begin recovery, and since the second half of that year we have been operating from a solid and healthy position.
What makes OeKB different from other financial institutions?
HB: We have an agreement with the government to be Austria’s export credit agency so we can insure and finance certain exports, and we can finance exports and investments that have a positive effect on the Austrian economy. To complete these activities we access capital markets to refinance businesses. We issue bonds under the guarantee of the Republic of Austria.
ASH: We operate in several other business sectors and we are the official office where prospectuses are filed. We also auction the Austrian government’s bonds, and we do the clearing for the Vienna Stock Exchange. A lot of this infrastructure business is not visible to the public; it relates to the function of the capital markets and covers lots of small services. Our agreements with the government also extends our work into a variety of atypical banking areas.
What about your energy market services and development financing?
ASH: Our energy market services provide financial clearing and risk management. As the development bank of the Republic of Austria, Oesterre- ichische Entwicklungsbank offers financial solutions for private-sector projects in developing countries which are economically sustainable and have positive impacts on development.
Since the second half of 2016 we have been operating from a solid and healthy position.
Helmut Bernkopf, Director of the Board, OeKB AG
OeKB also provides other services. How do your financing services promote Austrian businesses abroad?
HB: We support, with the mandate of the Republic of Austria, exporters by insuring them where private insurers cannot cover political or economic risk. This benefits countries where risk is higher—in areas like infrastructure or medicine, who receive quality products, and the Austrian companies who are able to expand their markets. We also provide attractive financing to help meet export demand.
Austria is considered a financial center for CEE. How has OeKB’s reach enabled growth?
HB: By insuring, with the mandate of the Republic of Austria, exports to the non-marketable risk countries there, and by supporting Austrian investments also in CEE regions.
ASH: The stock exchange has a CEE focus too. We do support there with our various capital market services.
Why should companies use financial services in Austria?
HB: Austria’s financial and capital market is stable and has a good reputation. There is also a strong link to CEE. We do offer an attractive deal to Austrian companies providing them with many services that promote economic growth and strengthen Austria as a center for global competition.
How do you stay ahead with digitalization?
ASH: We actively seek innovation; working with startups is an effective way of exploring new technologies and ideas, and promotes knowledge transfer and collaboration. We have a new innovation space that creates a testing ground for creative thinking and new projects. In Autumn 2018 we went live with a blockchain technology-based application. This technology is used for data notarization for reports from Austrian government bond auctions.
What are the current challenges facing you and the wider economy?
HB: Any changes that hinder free trade and growth are a threat to our business. As a relatively small economy Austria depends on exports, free trade and free movement of goods. Trade barriers will not jeopardize our business model but will put pressure on the growth potential of Austrian exporters, so we will be keeping a very close eye on these trends.