T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S

The creation of Société Générale de Banque in Poland (SGBP)

In April 1919, the Société Générale de Belgique subsidiary Banque Belge pour l Étranger (BBE) was approached by a number of parties to set up a banking subsidiary in Poland. In July the bank sent a representative there to assess whether this venture was feasible, given the instability of the currency 6 and the difficulty of recruiting staff who spoke the language and were familiar with local banking practices.

BBE investigated the possibility of setting up a Belgo-Polish banking institution but the idea did not receive the go-ahead. However, BBE was concerned that large German banking houses which before the war had enjoyed the lion s share of Poland s import- export trade financing business, might make a comeback and the Belgian foreign trade bank continued to keep track of the various ventures by French, British and United States banks in Poland.

At this stage, the Vienna-based Wiener Bankverein (WBV) entered the story. Prior to 1914, WBV had been running eight branches in Malopolska ( Lesser Poland ), and the Vistula- Podolie basin, areas which had belonged to Austria between the first partition of Poland in 1772 and the end of the First World War. The regional headquarters in Cracow then a city of 280,000 inhabitants and Lvov with 250,000 residents already employed 180 and 80 staff respectively. The branches in Tarnow, Bielsko-Biała and Cieszyn, which reported to the Cracow head office, had 15 to 20 employees. Those in Przemyśl, Drohobycz (now Drohobytch in Ukraine) and Stanisławów (now Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine) had between 10 and 15 staff and reported to the Lvov head office. All these branches were located in southern Poland, mainly in Galicia, which is nowadays divided between Poland and Ukraine. The eight WBV branches together had a balance sheet total valued in 1920 at 400 million Polish marks.

BBE therefore started talking to WBV management and found that the Austrians were highly optimistic about Poland s economic prospects. Oskar Pollak, one of the WBV man- agers, expressed great belief in the country s future, in spite of the chaotic situation he had to cope with at the dawn of the 1920s. The country boasted huge resources and the addition of a large swathe of Silesia to the territory of the new republic was also likely to be a major plus. Western Galicia with Cracow at its heart was an industrial region with many coalmines, a mature metals industry, textile mills, and other plant. Eastern Galicia, centred on Lvov, was less industrialised, but was rich in oil reserves and hosted large sugar refineries. This area also had large well-stocked forests. Agriculture was thriving all over Poland but Eastern Galicia boasted particularly fertile soil.

In November 1920, a tentative plan was devised to merge WBV s Polish branches with those of Zachodni Bank in Warsaw, with BBE participation, but the plan was eventually

6. State Archives of the Kingdom of Belgium Vol II, BBE, n° 81-82, memo from Chevalier de Wouters d Oplinter, 7 October 1919.

56