Neivelt's departure could change Hansabank's path

  • 2005-04-20
  • By Alec Charles
TALLINN - Last week the Hansabank Group, the Baltics' largest financial institution, an-nounced the resignation of CEO Indrek Neivelt. Having worked for the company since its launch in 1992, Neivelt is widely credited as the man responsible for the group's tremendous success.

"He's been the CEO for the past six years," said Mart Toevere, Hansabank's head of corporate communications. "During this period Hansabank became a pan-Baltic financial group." In 1999 approximately 80 percent of the group's operations were in Estonia and 20 percent outside, explained Toevere, and today more than half of the group's loans and deposits are outside Estonia.

"During his chairmanship the bank contributed revolutionary inputs to the whole banking business in Europe, including e-banking, the growth of corporate social responsibility and enlargement to Russia," added Aivar Roop, the bank's EU and structural funds manager. "He was and is a visionary of banking and business in general."

"When he became CEO, Hansabank was worth 160 million euros," said Erkki Raasuke, the group's new acting CEO. "Today it's worth 4.3 billion euros. I think that says it all."

Neivelt himself was more modest about his achievements. "I did my best," he said.

Neivelt was, however, proud to have introduced a modern lending culture to Hansabank. He was also happy that, under his guidance, the bank's various subsidiaries learned to work as a team. "We don't have cross-border issues," he said. "Everyone's eager to learn from each other, in an open and entrepreneurial culture."

In 1998, ForeningsSparbanken (Swedbank) acquired just over 50 percent of Hansabank's shares for a sum of about 200 million euros. By the start of this year it had increased its holding to almost 60 percent and this month succeeded in buying out another third from minority shareholders after having increased its original offer of 11 euros per share by nearly one quarter. Indeed, Swedbank wound up paying more than eight times the price for each share of the company than it did in its initial share purchase seven years ago.

Heldur Meerits, Neivelt's first boss in the days when the bank employed fewer than 20 people, has opposed Swedbank's plans, which he believes may undermine the company's management team.

"I've heard comments from the management that, following the takeover, they won't have time to work on further expansion but will spend all their time having meetings in Stockholm," Meerits told The Baltic Times.

He remains unsure about the long-term future of the bank. "I don't know how clever the Swedes are in managing this organization," he said. "When I think what the Swedbank managers have said, it seems they're not clever enough."

In fact, it was Swedbank's takeover that prompted Neivelt's departure. "Hansabank will be a subsidiary," Neivelt said. "It's not a challenge for me to be just the head of one unit in a larger company. I don't have the energy or passion to work for the Group for the next few years."

What then is the future for the Baltics' favorite bank?

"We don't know what kind of changes we'll have, but there will be changes," Neivelt said. "I think Hansabank will continue to be very successful, but it has a lot of challenges. The markets are growing very fast. Of course, everyone's eager to take some market share from us, but I think our organization's strong enough to compete."

"Time will tell," added new CEO Raasuke. "There's no structural force which won't allow the bank's current business to be carried on successfully."