Forecasts regarding how the Polish economy will pull through the coronavirus crisis vary but Leszek Skiba, the CEO of Pekao S.A., a universal bank and currently Poland’s second-largest, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that his bank’s prognoses paint a rebound post-COVID-19 pandemic landscape for the country.
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“We hope that the end of 2021 will mark a strong rebound [for the Polish economy] and that summing up the GDP change in 2020 and 2021 we will end up in a much better place than many other EU states,” said Mr Skiba.
The CEO expressed his absolute conviction that “the reactions of PM Mateusz Morawiecki to the COVID-19 epidemic will help minimise the income gap between Poland and hitherto better-off Western European states.”
Mr Skiba felt that “having identified all the supply chains-related risks in the new model of international trade that is taking shape right now, Poland will gain attractiveness in the eyes of foreign investors at the expense of some Asian states. It is as much a challenge for the Polish economy as it is a great opportunity. We want to and will actively participate in this process.”
“The stimulus package, just like the other propositions from PM Mateusz Morawiecki, are a needed and aptly tailored response to the turbulences experienced by [Poland’s] economy. But for these actions, the Polish economy would have much worse prospects ahead. That is why the cooperation with the Polish Development Bank (BGK) and the Polish Development Fund (PFR) and the public sector is not only in the interest of the economy as a whole but it is also in the interest of our customers,” said the Pekao CEO, adding that “the more we are engaged in these projects, the more our shareholders can benefit, which will manifest in the pricing of shares.”
Untouched by systemic risks
Talking about his bank’s predisposition to survive the crisis, Mr Skiba said that “it has been grounded on solid and tested pillars for many years” and that its business model “is one of the most resistant and has been based on strong relations with customers, which in turn gives us a stable balance and an uncompromised capital position and liquidity.”
“We are untouched by any systemic risks, such as the Swiss franc loans. Pekao turns in profits and enjoys a very low rate of non-profitable loans. There’s no doubt that we are a turbulence-proof bank and that we entered the time of pandemic in very good condition,” Mr Skiba said.
“I see my particular mission in better usage of instruments offered by the government and the EU,” Mr Skiba said, adding that “our customers will benefit more thanks to these instruments, which will, in turn, translate into the value of the bank. We will continue the strategy of deep digital transformation that will facilitate risk-management and will improve the cost-effectiveness of policies.”
Although Mr Skiba evoked Winston Churchill’s belief that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste” and said that “every situation should be used to identify a cutting edge… in order to reinvent oneself,” he responded, deflecting the PAP’s question as to whether Pekao was still interested in taking over mBank.
This is Leszek Skiba’s first interview since taking over the position of chairman of Pekao from Mark Lusztyn five days ago. The former chairman had, in turn, only been in the job since November. Previously Mr Skiba had been Deputy Finance Minister and no doubt had a role in drafting the financial package which he was praising. Before entering politics he had worked for six years at the National Bank of Poland.
Pekao Bank was bought over by Polish insurance group PZU from the Italian Unicredit group in 2017. As a Warsaw-listed company it has not escaped the turmoil which has affected the local market and markets globally in recent months. The bank’s share price is one half of what it was in mid-February, falling from PLN 102.35 (EUR 22.63) to PLN 49.3 (EUR 10.90) mid morning on Monday and one third of what it was in early 2017. However the new Chairman’s remarks appear to have perked up investor interests, particularly the mention of the possibility of taking over mBank.