By Mihaela Miteva
The banking sector in Southeast Europe faced a dynamic landscape in 2022, amidst higher profits, growing assets and some notable M&A deals. A rise in energy and food prices caused by the war in Ukraine and the continuing post-pandemic economic recovery fueled inflation.
After an extended period of historical lows, interest rates increased substantially throughout the year, reflecting a broader global trend. Banks grappled with remaining challenges from the pandemic and the ongoing concern of non-performing loans (NPLs). As the year progressed, efforts by the governments and financial institutions led to gradual improvements in NPL ratios, with stricter regulations and economic growth having a crucial role in facilitating loan recovery and mitigating risks. Consolidation in the banking sector continued, with units of Russia’s Sberbank across the region changing their owners.
The combined net profit of the 100 largest banks in Southeast Europe (SEE) amounted to 5.858 billion euro in 2022, significantly higher than the 4.567 billion euro net profit reported by the top lenders in 2021 and well above the 4.673 billion euro achieved in pre-pandemic 2019.
The combined net profit of SEE’s top 100 banks in 2022
Most of the region’s largest lenders saw their profits increase in 2022. Among the top 100 banks in SEE, 70 reported higher net profit in 2022, three swung to profit and only one turned to loss.
In parallel, the region’s biggest banks steadily expanded their assets throughout the year. The combined assets of the top one hundred banks reached 428.9 billion euro in 2022, as compared to 384.3 billion euro of the entrants in the ranking a year earlier. Ten banks in the ranking reported a decline in assets, in comparison with eight in 2021.
Banca Transilvania keeps lead, Zagrebacka Banka climbs to second place
Romania’s Banca Transilvania retained its leading position among SEE’s biggest lenders. The bank’s assets rose by 7.1% on the year in 2022 to some 27.1 billion euro on the back of increased loans and deposits.
It was also the region’s top performer in terms of net profit with 440.2 million euro, up from 362.3 million euro a year earlier, on the back of a 20% rise in operating profit. Its market capitalisation totalled 2.8 billion euro at the end of 2022. Dutchbased insurer NN Group held the largest stake in the Romanian lender as of the end of 2022, at 10.11%, fol lowed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with a 6.87% interest.
Romania continued to dominate the ranking with 18 banks on the list. The banking sector’s strong performance came amid 4.7% growth of the country’s economy, driven by private consumption and investments. Non-government loans in Romania increased by 12.1% yearon-year, reaching 73.5 billion euro, whereas deposits went up 7.1% to some 103.8 billion euro. At the end of 2022, the country’s monetary policy rate stood at 6.75%, compared to 1.75% at the beginning of the year. Romanian banks held assets of 137.98 billion euro, which is nearly a third of the total assets of the region’s largest banks. Their combined net profits came in at 2.077 billion euro, equivalent to 35% of the total.
Romania was followed by Bulgaria and Serbia with 17 and 13 banks, respectively.
Croatia’s Zagrebacka Banka, part of Italy’s UniCredit Group, moved up to the second position, swapping places with Romania’s Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR), a unit of Austria’s Erste. Zagrebacka Banka held assets of nearly 20 billion euro, up 13.6% in annual terms. In terms of profit, however, it ranked eighth.
For its part, Banca Comerciala Romana ranked third, having ended 2022 with assets of 19.8 billion euro, 9.7% higher than a year earlier. In terms of profit, it occupied the second spot. BCR booked a net profit of 369.9 million euro in 2022, as compared to 280 million euro reported for 2021, reflecting an improved operating result driven by continued strong loan growth.
In contrast, Zagrebacka Banka saw its net profit in 2022 decline to 237.7 million euro from 266.9 million euro in 2021, mostly as a result of lower dividend income and higher operating expenses.
The three banks that turned to net profit in 2022 were OTP Bank Romania, part of Hungarian financial services group OTP, the Bulgarian Development Bank (BDB) and Bulgaria’s Municipal Bank. OTP Bank Romania recorded a net profit of 13.9 million euro in 2022, compared to a loss of 1.9 million euro a year earlier. BDB booked a profit of 18.4 million euro against a loss of 79.7 million euro in 2021, while Municipal Bank swung to a net profit of 2.8 million euro from a loss of 4.7 million euro reported for the prior year.
Croatia’s Nova Hrvatska Banka, formerly known as Sberbank d.d., was the sole bank to report a net loss in 2022. Nova Hrvatska Banka posted a net loss of 32.9 million euro, compared to a net profit of 4.5 million euro in 2021. The lender, formerly a subsidiary of Austria-based Sberbank Europe, in turn controlled by Russia’s Sberbank, was acquired by Croatian majority stateowned Hrvatska Postanska Banka.
The ranking welcomed five entrants in 2022, including two from Bulgaria and one each from Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia’s ASA Banka joined the ranking at the highest position, in 65th place, registering the largest surge in assets on the list, by 170% to 1.43 billion euro. In 2022, the lender acquired Sarajevo-based Sberbank BH, a subsidiary of Sberbank Europe, making it the third-largest lender in Bosnia. The Bosnian bank’s net profit jumped to 9.6 million euro in 2022 from 3.4 million euro a year earlier.
Slovenia’s N Banka saw the largest drop in assets among all lenders, as they declined by 25% to some 1.3 billion euro, causing it to slip from 54th to 72nd place. N Banka, which was also a subsidiary of Sberbank Europe, was acquired by Slovenia’s Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) and subsequently merged with it.
Up the ladder
Among the top ten lenders, Bulgaria’s DSK Bank, part of Hungarian financial services provider OTP Group, climbed to the fifth place from the eighth spot in 2021 and was the country’s largest lender by assets. The bank’s assets added 19% year-on-year to 14.8 billion euro, as both loans and deposits grew considerably. At the same time, its net profit increased to 289.8 million euro from 201.2 million euro, as a result of higher net interest income and net fee and commission income.
Further down the list, Exim Banca Romaneasca rose ten places to the 25th position as its assets grew 4.2% to 4.64 billion euro. The bank’s net profit, however, declined to 8.7 million euro in 2022 from 9.9 million euro in 2021. Exim Banca Romaneasca was formed after Romania’s state-owned export-import bank, Exim Bank, absorbed its subsidiary Banca Romaneasca, becoming a universal commercial bank.
Elsewhere in Romania, Vista Bank jumped 25 positions to secure the 58th spot, marking the most significant reshuffle on the list. The lender’s assets leapt by 16% to 1.64 billion euro following a rise in loans and advances, while its net profit plunged to 4.8 million euro from 46.2 million euro, primarily due to a lack of gains from acquisitions and higher operating expenses.
Banka OTP Albania, a subsidiary of Hungary’s OTP Group, rose by 19 positions to 61st place following OTP’s acquisition of Alpha Bank Albania SH.A., the local unit of Greece’s Alpha Bank Group. Banka OTP’s assets surged by 55% to some 1.55 billion euro. The lender’s net profit increased to 27.6 million euro in 2022 from 15.6 million euro a year earlier on the back of higher interest income and a reversal in expected credit loss on financial assets.
In Serbia, Slovenia’s NLB integrated lender Komercijalna Banka into its operations. Meanwhile, AIK Banka finalised the acquisition of Sberbank Serbia, another unit of Russia’s Sberbank. In early 2023, AIK Banka set out for further expansion, signing a deal to acquire the entire capital of Eurobank Direktna, the local subsidiary of Greece’s Eurobank, for 280 million euro. At the same time, Belgrade-based Raiffeisen Banka, a unit of Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI), acquired the entire capital of the local subsidiary of French lender Credit Agricole. RBI’s operations in Bulgaria, on the other hand, were acquired by KBC Bank, part of Belgian financial group KBC. Subsequently, KBC Bank Bulgaria and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB), also in KBC’s ownership, merged in 2023 to establish the largest lender in the country. In Bosnia, Nova Banka completed the acquisition of Sberbank Banja Luka, a subsidiary of Sberbank Europe.