Erste Group: Transformation of a Banking House – Change, Leadership, Space

By Sarah A. Soule, Stephan Leixnering, Markus Höllerer, Margot Sutherland
2020 | Case No. OB101 | Length 44 pgs.

Erste Group (“Erste”), one of the largest financial services providers in Central and Eastern Europe, faced a rapidly changing business environment in 2019: fintech startups were unbundling retail banking services as consumers’ expectations for service in the digital age were evolving—and increasing. Yet, on the 200th anniversary of its inception as the first Austrian savings bank, Erste had overcome a number of strategic, leadership and spatial challenges.

In response to the rise of digital banking, Erste created George, a digital platform; grew an omnichannel offering; and developed a strategy based on being a trusted provider of financial literacy, thereby enabling customers’ financial health. The creation and growth of George gave rise to organizational challenges: to support the business strategy, Erste’s digital innovation lab, Erste Hub, was located in a separate organization, away from Erste’s other Viennese properties.

The dispersal of Erste’s operations throughout 28 inner-city locations in Vienna created major organizational and logistical challenges for the bank as it grew, making the search for a suitable physical solution an imperative—for decades. The development of a consolidated facility for Erste was kindled by the purchase of an unusually large parcel of land in 2007, and culminated in the staged occupancy of an innovative new campus in 2016. In 2019, Erste celebrated a momentous anniversary and executives and employees reflected on the multi-faceted impacts of the spatial consolidation of the group’s local operations, including Erste Hub.

Throughout this time period, Erste implemented fundamental changes within the organization. In parallel, leaders looked to the physical configuration of the new campus to impact how teams completed their work and, ultimately, boost the ability of the members of the organization to deliver on the new goals of innovation at Erste.

Learning Objective

In a situation where leaders of a conservative institution might be expected to restructure in the face of disruptive change, the organization turns out not to be the solution that is implemented at Erste. Rather, the opportunity of using space to spark behavioral change arises, and is leveraged to implement adaptive changes in the workforce. Erste’s experience illustrates the collaboration, transformative learning, and shifts in perception required by adaptive changes.
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