In the early 19th century, industrialisation was progressing rapidly. The rural population flocked to the cities and new social classes evolved for which there had been no social protection up until then. Even banking services were only available to affluent people.
From Great Britain and Germany, the concept of the savings bank moved to the south, and, as early as 1819, the 'Erste Österreichische Spar-Casse' was founded in Vienna.
Citizens worked on a voluntary basis – the Emperor officially acknowledged the charitable nature of their efforts! – and secured the deposits of the savings fund with their private assets. This enabled factory workers, servants and craftsmen to save money with interest for the first time and thus provide for their futures themselves.
This idea, which was tried and tested at local level in the second district of Vienna, turned into a successful model in the countries of the Danube Monarchy. Adopting virtually the same statutes as the original institute, a number of savings banks were founded in many parts of Austria, Central and Eastern Europe, among others in: Laibach (today: Ljubljana), Innsbruck, Bregenz and Spalato (Split) in 1822, Graz and Prague in 1825, Görz (Gorizia) in 1831, Klagenfurt in 1835, Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Kronstadt (Brasov) in 1835, Pest (Budapest) in 1839, Hermannstadt (Sibiu) and Zara (Zadar) in 1841, Pressburg (Bratislava) and Trieste in 1842, and Lemberg (Lviev), Kaschau (Košice) and Tyrnau (Trnava) in 1844. Today, one would call these banks ‘social businesses’: sustainable – i.e. self-supporting – enterprises which aim to fight poverty.
The primary underlying strategy of helping people to become active members of society under their own steam is a well-established practice in development cooperation and community support across the globe today. Instead of making charitable donations, which only alleviate symptoms in the short term, the aim is to establish ‘self-sustaining’ structures, organised locally by the people involved.
We view the historical roots of the initial savings bank idea as a valuable role model and inspiration for our civil-society commitment today. To this end, we founded ‘Zweite Sparkasse’ in Austria to provide key financial services to people who had previously had no access to them. Together with Erste Group, we launched good.bee, a platform in Central and Eastern Europe for social banking and microcredits and financial service provider for social entrepreneurs.