German lender in talks with An Post on partnership

Sparkasse chief says ’50-50 chance’ of expanding its activities into Ireland

 State-owned An Post is seeking to diversify its revenue streams as its traditional letters business declines. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

State-owned An Post is seeking to diversify its revenue streams as its traditional letters business declines. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The managing director of German lender Sparkasse has said the group is keen on coming to Ireland but that the chances of an expansion are “50-50”.

In an interview with RTÉ Radio, Nicklaus Bergmann confirmed that Sparkasse was in talks with An Post regarding a possible partnership for delivering enhanced banking services to Irish customers, and said it was also open to the prospect of partnering with credit unions.

“We’re talking to An Post, we are also talking to the credit unions,” he said. The story had earlier been reported by The Sunday Business Post.

The community public savings bank currently has around 12,000 branches across Germany, and is known for its favourable mortgage interest rates.

However, Mr Bergmann said the main focus in any future Irish operation would be on lending to small and medium enterprises in rural areas.

“Right now there is a gap in the market when it comes to lending to SMEs. The challenge is that the pillar banks obviously are not really interested in SME lending.

“When you look at An Post they can’t really do anything when it comes to SME lending,” he said, referring primarily to businesses valued at less than €1 million.

Expansion

Mr Bergmann added that Sparkasse officials had been involved in talks with the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, as recently as last week, as well as the department of rural and community development.

Although plans for an expansion to Ireland through a local partnership have stalled lately, Mr Bergmann indicated that the group was hopeful of greater forward momentum given the regime changes at both departments following the cabinet reshuffle earlier this year.

Asked about the likelihood of Sparkasse eventually having a stake in the Irish market, he said there was a “50-50 chance”.

An Post is known to be keen to bolster its financial services offering to compensate for the burdensome costs of its delivery services, at a time when its letters business is in decline.

Talks with Sparkasse are described as being at a very early stage.

It is not the first time that An Post has considered entering into a venture with a foreign lender, as it previously had a joint stake alongside Dutch bank Fortis in the ill-fated Postbank prior to its closure in 2010, in the wake of the global financial crisis.

An Post last week signed a deal to grow its share of the e-commerce parcels market by joining the DHL Parcel Europe network.

The development comes two months after An Post signalled plans to grow its share of the fast-growing parcels segment of the market to 35 per cent by 2020 from 25 per cent currently. This would involve growing revenues to more than €200 million from €120 million at present.