Bayerische Vereinsbank A.G.
Bayerische Vereinsbank A.G.
Assets: DM162.58 billion (US$91.67 billion)
Stock Index: Berlin Bremen Hamburg Stuttgart Zurich
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Bayerische Vereinsbank traces its origins to 1869, when King Ludwig II of Bavaria granted a license to a consortium of private bankers to found a bank that would serve the needs of the growing Bavarian economy. Ludwig II is better known as a patron of Richard Wagner and as the eccentric sovereign who dotted the Bavarian landscape with a series of fairy tale-like castles, so the bank is not his most colorful legacy. But over the decades Bayerische Vereinsbank has gained a reputation for a solid, sensible conservatism that not only saw it through Germany’s many crises in the first half of the 20th century, but also allowed it to pursue a course of steady growth in more recent years, when major West German banks have sometimes lacked a steadying hand.
Bayerische Vereinsbank was founded in Munich as a commercial bank. In 1869, trade licenses and compulsory guild memberships were eliminated in Germany, opening up new entrepreneurial opportunities, and the bank’s initial mission was to encourage economic expansion. In 1870, it loaned money to the Bavarian Railway, and in 1871 it was granted the right to operate as a mortgage bank, issuing real estate loans and mortgage bonds. This last development made Bayerische Vereinsbank into an institution remarkably similar to Bayerische Hypotheken-und Wechsel Bank (commonly known as Hypo-Bank), a mortgage bank established in 1835 by decree of Ludwig I of Bavaria. The rivalry between these two Bavarian banks intensified in 1899 when the Mortgage Banking Act forbade the further establishment of banks offering both mortgages and commercial loans, and it has endured to the present day.
Bayerische Vereinsbank did not participate to any substantial degree in the German foreign banking boom of the late 19th century. It did loan money to the Austrian railway and underwrite securities issued by the Turkish government, but international business was left mostly to the large, Berlin-based Grossbanken that have always dominated the German banking industry.
Indeed, the bank remained a relatively small institution into the 20th century. Although it had 15 branch offices at the beginning of World War I, the size of a bank’s branch network was not the only measure of its importance. If the Grossbanken, such as Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank, occupied the first tier of German banking, then Bayerische Vereinsbank ranked in the middle of the second tier, with other large provincial banks like Hypo-Bank and Barmer Bank. German finance had been moving toward ever greater centralization since the nation was united under Bismarck, with the Grossbanken wielding considerable power from their bases in Berlin. This trend continued through the economic crises that characterized the years following Germany’s defeat in 1918, as struggling banks found that size often determined whether they survived or not.
Both during and after the war, the second-tier banks responded to this trend by joining each other in “community of interest” agreements, exchanging representatives from their boards of directors and operating in accord with each other. These agreements allowed the provincials to fend off takeovers from Berlin and preserve their independence. In the early 1920s, Bayerische Vereinsbank sought to consolidate its position by acquiring an interest in the small Berlin bank E. S. Friedman & Company and by allying itself with Bayerische Handelsbank. In 1922 it entered into a community of interest agreement with Mendelssohn & Company, a prestigious banking house based in Berlin and Amsterdam. Mendelssohn acquired an interest in Bayerische Vereinsbank and representation on its board of directors; Bayerische Vereinsbank justified the deal on the grounds that it would gain a valuable friend in Berlin without sacrificing autonomy.
Bayerische Vereinsbank prospered during the late 1920s; its capital grew from 21 million Reichsmarks in 1927 to 31.1 million in 1930, and its reserves grew from 9.3 million Reichsmarks to 13.8 million. Nonetheless, it remained somewhat smaller than rival Hypo-Bank in 1930 and considerably smaller than any of the Grossbanken.
Its lack of size and power relative to the Grossbanken should also be taken into account when considering the years of National Socialist rule. Virtually every major bank helped finance Germany’s war effort to some degree until the German economy collapsed in 1944. When Allied occupation authorities investigated the extent to which the German business community had aided the Nazis, they found culpability among the Grossbanken, in part because their size and influence made their complete innocence inconceivable, but the investigation did not indicate that any of the second-tier banks were suspected of war crimes. Accordingly, in 1947, the occupation authorities decreed that the Grossbanken who survived the war should be broken up into smaller institutions, but smaller banks like Bayerische Vereinsbank were not punished.
The bank emerged from the war with 52 branches. From there, it embarked on a course of expansion and internationalization that has ensured it a position of prominence among West Germany’s regional banks. In the 1950s, Bayerische Vereinsbank began to expand beyond its traditional base in Bavaria and to internationalize its business. It did so largely without opening foreign branches; it opened its first overseas representative office in Beirut in 1958, but eventually closed it. The bank didn’t venture abroad again until 1970, when offices were opened in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. It established a presence in the United States when its New York office opened on Madison Avenue in 1971; offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Atlanta appeared over the course of the decade. It has also opened offices in Tehran (1971), Paris (1973), Johannesburg (1974), London (1976), Bahrain (1979), Hong Kong (1979), and Beijing (1986).
After the end of World War II, Bayerische Vereinsbank CEO Baron Hans Christof Freiherr von Tucher publicly suggested that his bank should merge with Hypo-Bank. The three surviving Grossbanken —Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, and Commerzbank—had re-formed in 1958, just as large and influential as ever, to become West Germany’s Big Three commmercial banks. It was von Tucher’s idea to merge Bavaria’s two largest banks into an institution that could compete with them. Nothing came of his original proposal, but in 1969 Bayerische Vereinsbank and Hypo-Bank did begin merger talks. Negotiations continued for two years, then broke up when Hypo-Bank balked at the Bavarian state government’s insistence the Bayerische Staatsbank, Bavaria’s third-largest bank, be included in the merger. In the aftermath of the failed merger, Bayerische Vereinsbank agreed to acquire Bayerische Staatsbank for DM40 million—a bargain, since the latter’s assets were valued at DM5 billion.
In addition to its international expansion, Bayerische Vereinsbank produced a record of steady asset growth throughout the 1970s. In 1982 Wolfgang Graebner, a managing partner of Berliner Handels- und Frankfurter Bank, told Euromoney, ”The BV bank is a conservative bank, and that’s a genuine compliment... They’ve achieved balance sheet growth instead of dramatic headlines; a smooth ride through troubled waters. That’s what I call banking.” In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an economic downturn and crises, like the collapse of Bankhaus IG Herstatt and a sharp drop in Commerzbank’s profits after a bad hunch on the direction of interest rates, sent shudders through the West German banking industry. But Bayerische Vereinsbank, thanks to what Euromoney called its “pushy but conservative style,” gained ground on Hypo-Bank and the Big Three. Depending on what statistical measure one used, Bayerische Vereinsbank either was very close to overtaking or had already overtaken Hypo-Bank as West Germany’s fourth-largest bank by 1982.
A contemporary trend in which Bayerische Vereinsbank did take part was the divestiture of business holdings. Public concern mounted during the 1970s over the influence that Germany’s banks wielded in the commercial and industrial sectors through stock holdings and corporate directorships. To head off possible calls for nationalization, the banks began to sell off their portfolios. In 1982 Bayerische Vereinsbank sold its 36% interest in Hacker-Pschorr Brau, a Munich brewery, to local construction magnate Joseph Schoerghuber.
In 1985, however, the bank made a substantial investment in West Germany’s defense industry. It bought a 5% interest in Messerschmidt-Boelkhow-Bloehm, becoming the first bank to ever hold an interest in the nation’s premier aerospace concern. It then joined Messerschmidt and Dresdner Bank in a takeover bid for Krauss Maffei, which manufactures the Leopard 2 main battle tank.
In the late 1980s Bayerische Vereinsbank continued to expand its international presence. In 1988 it acquired First National Bank of Chicago’s branch offices in Milan and Rome. And in May, 1989, it concluded a historic agreement with four other European banks—Italy’s Banca Commerciale, Austria’s Creditanstalt-Bankverein, France’s Credit Lyonnais, and the Finnish bank Kansallis-Osake-Pankki—and the Soviet banks Vnesheconobank, Promstroybank, and Sberbank to form the International Bank Of Moscow. The proposed bank will constitute the first joint banking venture between Western and Soviet institutions since the Revolution of 1917 and is intended to finance foreign trade and provide financial advice.
Throughout its history, Bayerische Vereinsbank has seldom, if ever, emerged from the shadows when the spotlight has shone on the German banking industry. It has expanded and diversified enough to ensure its continued prosperity, but in recent times it has kept a low profile as well. Even more importantly, it has also stayed healthy at times when some West German banks seemed less than robust.
ADIG Allgemeine Deutsche In-vestment-Gesellschaft mbH (35.5%); Bayerisch-Bulgar-ische Handelsbank GmbH (51%); Bankhaus Gebruder Bethmann; Bayerische Handelsbank AG (76.4%); Bayerische Kapitalanlagegesellschaft mbH; Bayerische Wert-papiersammelbank AG (24%); Franken WKV Bank GmbH; Internationales Immobilien-Institut AG (50%); Schwaebische Bank AG (25.1%); Simonbank AG (97.4%); Sueddeutsche BodenCreditbank AG (54.2%); Vereins- und Westbank AG (25.4%); Vereinsbank in Nuernberg AG (50.4%); Bayerische Vereinsbank S.A. (BV France) (Paris); Bavarian Finance Company B.V. (Netherlands); BV Overseas Finance N.V. (Curacao); Bayerische Vereinsbank International S.A. (Luxembourg); BV Capital Inc. (U.S.); BV Capital Management Inc. (U.S.); BV Capital Markets, Inc. (U.S.); BV Capital Markets (Asia) Ltd. (Hong Kong) (50%); Wirtschafts- und Privatbank (Switzerland) (50%); Akkurat Grundstuecks-GmbH & Co. Betriebs KG; Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren AG, (75.7%); Allgaeuer Brauhaus AG (32.1%); Altius-Alpha Fund Inc. (U.S.) (31.8%); Aufbaugesellschaft Bayern GmbH (48.2%); Bavaria Filmkunst GmbH (32%); Bayerische Immobilien-Leasing GmbH mit Objektgesellschaften; Bayerische Vereinsbank Financial Management GmbH (95%); BD Industrie Beteiligungs-gesellschaft mbh (50%); BEWAG (25.4%); Bethmann Liegenschafts KG (50%); Duesseldorf-Muenchener Beteiligungs-gesellschaft mbH; Grundstuecksgesellschaft Simon bh KG; HAWA Grundstuecks GmbH & Co. OHG Hotelverwaltung Mietfinanz GmbH (23%); Nebelhorn-bahn AG (26.8%); Neue-Baumwoll-Spinnerei und Webe-rei Hof AG (40.3%); Pferse Kolbermoor AG, Augsburg (36%); Salvatorplatz Grundstuecksgesellschaft mbH & Co. OHG Verwaltungszentrum; Vermietungsgesellschaft SUDWEST fur SEL Kommunikationsanlagen mbH, Stuttgart (50%); TIG Technologie-Investitions GmbH & Co. KG (30%); TIVOLI Handels-und Grundstuecks AG (99.2%); Verba Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH (64.3%); Vogtlandische Baumwollspinnerei AG (37.6%).
Whale, P. Barrett. Joint Stock Banking in Germany, London, Fred Cass & Company, 1930.