Magazine article American Banker

U.S. Bankers Help Polish Colleagues Go Western

Magazine article American Banker

U.S. Bankers Help Polish Colleagues Go Western

Article excerpt

Poland's small cooperative banks are on a steep learning curve after decades under a government that shunned entrepreneurial pursuits, according to a group of U.S. bankers that recently visited the country.

What really surprised Wisconsin banker Walter Ollech was how "western" Poland's community banks have become, right down to their problems.

"When I walked into the smaller of these banks," said Mr. Ollech, president of the $28 million State Bank of Withee, "it compared very similarly to State Bank of Withee in its entirety."

Mr. Ollech has recently returned from Poland, where he volunteered in a banker-to-banker project coordinated by Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers In Overseas Cooperative Assistance.

The program sent U.S. consulting teams experienced in community banking and farm credit to advise Poland's newly independent banks.

Moving to the Forefront

"They're going from the '20s to the '90s in a year or two," said Toby Sherry, a former Wisconsin banking commissioner and banker, comparing Poland's banks since the end of communist rule in 1989 to U.S. bank development since the Depression.

Nonetheless, the bankers who met John Midthun, former president and chief executive of $80 million-asset Northern State Bank of Ashland, Wis., were "by no means were in the back seat," he said.

Mr. Midthun visited the cities of Radzyn and Raciborz for four weeks in February and March with the first of several planned delegations.

Government Control

Many of the country's 1,660 cooperative banks have existed for more than 100 years. …

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