Austrians show eastern Europeans how to save it

By bne IntelliNews March 3, 2011

Nicholas Watson in Prague -

With saving for old age a hot topic right now as Central and Eastern European governments struggle to put their pension systems in order, several surveys suggest the region's citizens aren't saving enough and could take a leaf out of the Austrians' book.

First off there was bne's own survey (click here to read) in February of 20-plus year olds in Poland, Russia and Turkey, which found that virtually none of the Poles and Russians surveyed were putting money aside. This contrasted with the Turks, half of whom said there saving.

Then at the end of February a survey carried out by GfK Polonia commissioned by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita found that in 2010 a majority 66% of Poles did not put as much as one zloty aside for a rainy day. Just as in 2009, the survey said every 20th Pole saved between PLN5,000 (€1,262) and PLN10,000. Every 100th person put aside PLN10,000-20,000, while just 1% of Poles saved over PLN20,000. More men than women made savings last year.

According to Professor Andrzej Rychard, chairman of the Centre for Social Studies, these figures are understandable, given the growing consumerism in Polish society. Saving is more popular in developed economies and Poland still needs over 10 years to join the group of such states, he notes.

Austrian economics

Indeed, the Austrians are streets ahead of their European cousins to the east. According to a recent survey conducted for Erste Bank by the market research company Integral, Austrians plan to set aside on average approximately €5,460 in 2011. Some 62% plan to invest their money in savings passbooks and slightly less intend to open building society savings accounts (58%). About 40% plan to invest in life insurance this year and 34% in retirement provisions. Encouragingly for the fund industry, 17% said they might consider investment funds appealing, while 11% plan to buy real estate and 8% will invest in gold on their custody accounts. "Putting money aside, in whatever form, has traditionally been very important for Austrians," explains Peter Bosek, member of the management board at Erste Bank.

In 2010, deposits by private households - after some ups and downs - stabilised at around €207bn, with Erste Bank holding almost €40bn of that total.

Having said that, Austrians are not averse to splashing out: according to the study, a third of Austrians are planning major purchases such as cars, apartments or new furniture. The majority will pay for these purchases out of their own savings (85%), but 15% will need loans from banks, with the average amount around €70,200.

The credit volumes are clearly moving upwards, says Erste, though it must be noted that Austrian households by and large remain relatively debt free compared with their western European counterparts. The total private debt of households was equal to 54% of GDP in 2009 (up from 42% of GDP in 1995) - in Germany this figure was 64% and in the US 99%.

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