Poland - Commercial Guide
Banking Systems

Includes special features of this country’s banking system and rules/laws that might impact U.S. business.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

Poland has a sound, non-discriminatory financial services infrastructure.  The banking sector plays a dominant role in the financial system, accounting for around 70% of financial sector assets.  The state owns several banks but the sector is largely privately owned with private banks controlling approximately two thirds of the banking sector.  The government launched a drive to increase local ownership of the banking sector through acquisitions of foreign-owned banks by state-owned banks, as a result foreign banks’ share in total assets of the sector fell, at end-2018, from around 60 percent to below 50 percent. The State controls two largest banks in Poland.  These two lenders control about one third of the market while top ten banks account for 73.5% of banking assets and 78.8% of deposits, according to the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF), following a series of mergers. There are many cooperative banks (547 - at the end of 2018), but collectively they account for a relatively small share of the market.  All three types of banks offer a wide range of services to their customers.  
 

There has been some reshaping of the banking system in recent years.  UniCredit (Italy) sold down its controlling stake in a top-ten bank, Pekao, in 2016, cutting foreign bank ownership of the sector to less than 50% (from 60% previously). In July 2016, UniCredit (Italy) sold a 10 percent controlling stake in the second-biggest bank Pekao SA to institutional investors. On 7 June 2017, state-owned insurer PZU and state investment vehicle PFR finalized the takeover of Pekao from Italian UniCredit, which sold a 32.8 percent stake in Poland’s second biggest bank for PLN 10.6 billion ($2.7 bn). By completing the acquisition of Bank Pekao, PZU became the largest financial group in the CEE region, and the leader in both the insurance and banking sectors and in asset management. In November 2018 France’s Société Générale sold its Polish unit, Eurobank (a top-20 bank in Poland in terms of assets), to Portuguese-owned Millenium Bank for PLN1.8bn. 
GE Capital (US) completed the sale of the core of its Bank BPH to Alior Bank for PLN1.2bn in November 2016. GE Capital continues to own the mortgage unit, the sole remaining business of Bank BPH. 

 

Mergers have also taken place between units of western European lenders.  Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank sold the core operations of Raiffeisen Bank Polska to BNP Paribas (France) for US$920m in October 2018. The assets were rolled into the French bank’s existing Polish subsidiary, BGZ BNP Paribas.  In December 2017,  Germany’s Deutsche Bank sold its Polish private and commercial units to Bank Zachodni WBK, owned by Spain’s Santander, which rebranded the enlarged firm as Santander Bank Polska.  Poland’s strong fundamentals and the size of its internal market mean that many foreign banks will want to retain their positions.  The country’s relatively low labor costs have attracted some international banks, which use it as an offshoring location.  For example, JPMorgan (US) struck a deal with the Polish authorities in late 2017 to hire 2,500 staff over several years for a global back-office operations center. 

 
Banks’ profitability has slipped in recent years, partly as a result of a special banking tax. In 2018, banks’ profits rose by 7.5% to PLN 14.7bn, recovering from the dip imposed by a bank levy introduced in January 2016 by the ruling PiS party 
 

Poland's universal banking system provides deposits, loans, and securities trading services.  State-owned bank BGK administers target funds (e.g., municipal development, road, housing, technology); is responsible for the payment of the majority of EU funds granted to Poland; provides special credit services, including homeowner mortgages and guarantees to export companies; and issues bonds for financing infrastructure (road) projects.  BGK is also involved in the execution of the Responsible Development Strategy (Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government’s long-term economic development plan approved in February 2016) (which aims to boost industry, innovation and exports, and it is also designed to enable the country to escape the so-called middle-income trap, while creating opportunities for Poles to earn more money.  BGK is an important part of the Development Fund created from several state agencies. BGK also supports SMEs with credit guarantees as part of the so-called de minimis aid program.  BGK is also an important player in the Three Seas Initiative. 
 
Popularity of online and mobile banking continues to grow, causing bank networks to shrink rapidly.  The investment expenditure of banks on new technologies will likely further increase in 2019, among others, due to the entry into force of the PSD 2 (i.e. a directive changing the landscape of payment services) and the creation of the Polish API standard (a unified interface for access to bank accounts for third parties). The banks are also starting to monetize the electronic tools provided to their clients. All major Polish banks offer online services, from balance-cheque functions to cash transfers and deposits. Deposits and loans are available in the national currency, the Polish zloty (PLN) and foreign currencies.  The Financial Supervision Commission (KNF) has restricted the availability of loans in euros and Swiss francs in order to minimize the banking system's exposure to the exchange risk resulting from exchange rate fluctuations.  Only individuals who earn salaries denominated in foreign currencies (i.e. Euros, Swiss francs, U.S. dollars) continue to enjoy easy access to loans in foreign currencies.  Tight controls on foreign currency lending seek to limit banks' and borrowers' exposure to a sharp decline in the value of the PLN Credit agreements require borrowers to provide data on their economic and financial standing.  Most Polish firms borrow from banks rather than issuing bonds or commercial paper, and demand for corporate loans has been increasing in recent years.  Loans to non-financial corporations grew by 7.6%, to Zl359bn, in 2018, up from 6% expansion in 2017.  It is common practice when granting credit to require bank guarantees, drafts, or other forms of collateral. 
 

KNF oversees banks as well as other financial market entities.  If an investor intends to exceed a 10%, 20%, 33.3% or 50% threshold in a bank, insurance company, mutual fund or a brokerage house, the investor needs to notify KNF of its plans.  KNF then has up to 60 days to object to the investor's acquisition plans if it believes that the acquiring company will not be able to guarantee stable management of the financial institution it seeks to acquire. 
 
The Polish government has not yet decided whether it intends to join the European Union banking union as a non-euro zone member.