History of VIG
Vienna Insurance Group is proud of its approximately 190 years of history and tradition. The Company has grown from a local insurance company into one of the largest international insurance groups in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
1824 – insurance industry was in its nascence
The roots of the insurance group date back to 1824, when the oldest of the three insurance groups that today form the Wiener Städtische Austria, and out of which Vienna Insurance Group emerged, was founded.
Economically, this period of the Habsburgs’ reign was characterized by nascent industrialization. Though the insurance industry was still in its nascence, a great number of companies were already being established. Due to the wooden construction techniques that prevailed at that time, the initial focus of these insurance companies was on fire insurance. The official birth of the modern Austrian insurance industry is considered to have been on 4 September 1819, when an imperial resolution declared that fire insurance in Austria was to be placed in the hands of private companies.
The three forerunners of Vienna Insurance Group
“The Wechselseitige”, as it soon came to be called, was founded by a group of 364 personalities drawn from the nobility, industry and the church. The founders included the Prince Archbishop of Vienna as well as the administrator of the Archdiocese of Salzburg. With this, the cornerstone had been laid for the good relations between Vienna Insurance Group and the Catholic Church which exist to this day. In the Kingdom of Saxony, there had already long been a fire insurance company. In search of models for his planned undertaking, Georg Ritter von Högelmüller, an Imperial Army officer, went to study this institution on location and subsequently desired to transfer the idea to Austria. Following protracted difficulties – Högelmüller had begun submitting proposals to the estates of the monarchy’s individual Crown Lands back in 1803 – he finally received a license to do business as announced in the official government newspaper Wiener Zeitung on 24 December 1824. The 24th of December is therefore viewed as the date on which the Company was officially founded. The founding father of the insurance company was later to be honored with a street named after him in Vienna’s 5th district – Högelmüllergasse.
The second forerunner of today’s Vienna Insurance Group can look back upon a similarly successful history: In 1839, the “Allgemeine wechselseitige Capitalien- und Rentenversicherungsanstalt” opened for business in Vienna. The driving force behind this first Austrian life insurer was mathematics professor Josef Salomon. Later on, the company was renamed “Janus wechselseitige Lebensversicherungs-Anstalt”. It was headquartered in Vienna, from where it expanded into all the Monarchy’s regions during the mid-1860s. Branches were established in several German principalities, as well; for example in Berlin.
Finally, in 1898, the third forerunner of Vienna Insurance Group was born. The impetus for its establishment was provided by the 50-year jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. In a Vienna City Council meeting on 11 February 1898 a series of measures which the Imperial capital intended to implement to mark the occasion were presented. These included the following point: The city of Vienna shall establish a city-run life, old-age, invalidity and pension insurance company which shall bear the name "Städtische Kaiser Franz Joseph-Versicherungsanstalt" (Emperor Franz Joseph City Insurance Company). On 1 December 1898, Vienna City Hall bore witness to the solemn opening of the “Städtische”. The Company, which was soon to expand its activities to Austria’s other provinces as well, established its headquarters in the building of the Bürgerspitalfonds (Citizens’ Hospital Fund) at Schottenring 30 in Vienna’s 1st district. In 1914, the institution moved into a newly erected building on Tuchlauben. This insurance company was meant to offer life and pension insurance above all to low-income Viennese citizens, and it was also involved in the city‘s welfare programs.
The road to a merger
The Company name has thus contained a reference to the city of Vienna since 1898. Even today, the Group makes such reference in all countries in which it does business. In 1919 – with the Habsburg Monarchy having fallen apart, and Austria having become a small republic – the name was changed to “Gemeinde Wien – Städtische Versicherungsanstalt”. Furthermore, various areas of property insurance were added to the company’s range of products in a step-by-step fashion. Over the years that followed, the three forerunner institutions began to move closer together. First, in 1924, the former “Wechselseitige k.k. priv. Brandschadenversicherungsanstalt” was merged with “Janus wechselseitige Lebensversicherungs-Anstalt” to create “Wechselseitige Brandschaden und Janus allgemeine Versicherungs-Anstalt auf Gegenseitigkeit”. In this, a leading fire insurer and a leading life insurance company had been combined to create a powerful and large universal insurance company. In 1929, Wiener Städtische took an equity stake in “Union Versicherungs-Aktiengesellschaft,” thus acquiring the concession for new areas of the property insurance business. Wiener Städtische went on to purchase shares issued by the “Wechselseitige Krankenversicherungsanstalt” in 1934 before assuming the management of this company in 1935. Finally, 1938 saw the merger of “Gemeinde Wien – Städtische Versicherungsanstalt” and “Wechselseitige Brandschaden und Janus allgemeine Versicherungs-Anstalt auf Gegenseitigkeit.” And with that, the three predecessors of Vienna Insurance Group were united for the first time.
National Socialism and subsequent reconstruction
The collapse of the Austrian economy in the wake of World War II left Wiener Städtische on the verge of ruin. Direct bomb hits had totally destroyed the insurance company’s two office buildings on Kärntner Ring along with valuable inventory and documentation. And in April of 1945, the company archive had also fallen victim to the flames. Following the war’s conclusion, recovery work began with a small group of employees. Two years later, in 1947, the Company renamed itself “Wiener Städtische Wechselseitige Versicherungsanstalt”.
Austria’s first tall office building – the Ringturm
During the period of recovery, Wiener Städtische first established its headquarters on the street called Tuchlauben – but the space there soon proved to be too small for the growing company. So in 1952, the architect Erich Boltenstern was commissioned to construct a modern office building.
The intended location at the corner of Schottenring and the Kai was long the site of the so-called Bürgerspitalfonds; that building was completely destroyed at the end of the World War II, and by the end of 1945 the rubble had already been removed. The Ringturm thus went up at precisely that spot where one of Vienna Insurance Group’s institutional forerunners, the "Städtische Kaiser Franz Joseph-Jubiläums-Lebens- und Renten-Versicherungs-Anstalt", had made its first headquarters following its establishment in 1898. Erich Boltenstern, who was making decisive contributions to the reconstruction efforts going on in Vienna at the time, was chosen as the architect. Ground was broken on 1 June 1953, and by June 1954 the shell construction had already been finished.
The building’s festive grand opening took place on 14 June 1955, barely one month after the Austrian State Treaty had been signed. Alongside politicians, businesspeople and numerous international guests, a large number of Vienna residents had also turned out to marvel at the city’s new landmark. For the photographers, the general manager at that time had even brought in the State Opera Ballet to dance on the building’s roof for the topping-out ceremony.
The steel-reinforced concrete construction is 73.05 meters high and houses 20 stories as well as three basement levels that provide 12,000 square meters of usable floor space. Alongside modern elevators, an old paternoster lift still travels up and down along its loop. In order to arrive at an appropriate name for the new office building, a competition was held in 1955. From over 6,500 submissions, the name “Ringturm” (literally: “Ring Tower”) was selected, and the successful contestant received a prize in the amount of 2,000 schillings. The rejected ideas included such creative suggestions as City-Haus (“City Building”), Hoch-Eck (the somewhat mountainous-sounding “High Corner”) and Weitblick-Haus (“Farview Building”).
Changes on the insurance market
In 1958 – which is as far back as the statistics of the Austrian Insurance Association go – overall insurance premiums in Austria amounted to the equivalent of 202 million presentday Euros. Per capita and per annum, Austrian’s spent 29 present-day Euros on insurance. By way of comparison: 1972 saw premium volumes exceed the billion-Euro mark for the first time. And in 2010, total premium volume reached EUR 16.7 billion. In that year, the average Austrian was to spend almost EUR 2,000 on insurance premiums.
The insurance industry was able to reap particularly great benefit from Austria’s economic rise following signing of the State Treaty. Parallel to the country’s economic development – from the dire need of the immediate postwar period to the years of the “economic miracle,” during which the population’s wealth steadily increased – the relative importance of the various types of insurance shifted. In the initial postwar years, fire insurance was still the most important area of business for domestic insurers, with storm insurance also playing a certain role. Then, in 1965, Wiener Städtische introduced the first comprehensive household and homeowner’s insurance product.
One of the most important changes on the insurance market had to do with third-party vehicle insurance. Such insurance had already become mandatory in Austria in 1929. And in the postwar period, increasing motorization soon made it the dominant type of insurance. In 1963, Wiener Städtische awarded a bonus of ten-percent of the annual premium to all those who had been continually insured with them since 1960 and not been responsible for an accident in either of the two preceding years. This innovation put the company years ahead of the competition: a broad-based system of bonuses and penalties was only introduced on 1 August 1977. Third-party vehicle insurance premiums had for a long time been determined by the state. Only in 1987 was this sector liberalized.
Another important change had to do with health insurance. The General Social Insurance Law (ASVG) of 1956 – since then regularly amended – has guaranteed all employees equal health insurance coverage. The private insurance industry had at first feared sizeable losses due to this, but contrary to expectations, private supplementary insurance proceeded to boom.
Back in 1960, life insurance policies still led a phantom existence. Exceptions were risk insurance for those taking out loans and policies for the coverage of burial expenses. Life insurance only experienced its breakthrough in Austria upon the introduction of applicable tax breaks. Thereafter, the discussions on the financing of state pension insurance which had begun in the 1970s and 1980s produced a further upswing in the sector, one which has continued to this day.
Initial steps toward expansion
In 1964, Wiener Städtische concluded a cooperative agreement with the life insurance company Jupiter, and in 1966 it acquired 40% of the shares in the insurer "Österreichische Volksfürsorge AG". In 1971, the general manager at that time managed to acquire a majority stake in Donau Versicherung. Though 1867 is the year in which Donau Versicherung is officially acknowledged to have been established.
Expansion into Central and Eastern Europe
It all began in November of 1990 with 15.4 million schillings – the equivalent of nearly 1.15 million present-day Euros: it was with this sum that the company then known as Wiener Städtische participated in the founding of the Czechoslovakian cooperative insurance company Kooperativa in Bratislava one year after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And with this act, the company’s expansion into the countries of the former Eastern Bloc had begun. Up to that point, Wiener Städtische had done its business almost exclusively within Austria. Over the years that followed, however, it proceeded to write an impressive piece of European insurance history.
Kooperativa, which began doing business in March of 1991, did quite well right from the beginning. Kooperativa first concentrated on property insurance, adding life insurance in 1994.
In 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split up. This “divorce” went just as smoothly at Kooperativa as it did at the national level. The three regional divisions based in Prague, Brno and Bratislava were transformed into independent companies, and 1999 saw the Prague and Brno companies merged and the new company’s main headquarters established in Prague.
A historic opportunity
A great step forward was taken by the Czech Kooperativa in 1999, when the state monopoly on auto insurance which had existed up to then was eliminated. Within a few weeks, the Group was able to acquire 1.1 million clients and secure for itself a Czech auto liability insurance market share of over 20%. A couple of years later, when Slovakia privatized auto liability insurance, business developed just as successfully as it had in the Czech Republic.
Since 1996, Vienna Insurance Group has gradually continued its expansion direction into Central and Eastern Europe. Between 1996 and 1999, the Company entered the Hungarian, Polish, and Croatian insurance markets, opened a branch office in Italy and acquired a company in Liechtenstein. In the course of the following seven years, successful market entries followed in Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia. In 2007, Vienna Insurance Group was able to further expand its geographic presence in Central and Eastern Europe by conducting major acquisitions. After entering the insurance markets in Albania, Macedonia and Turkey, Vienna Insurance Group has also become active in the three EU countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Later market entries followed in Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Moldova.
Stock market offensive of 2004
In 1992 Wiener Städtische’s insurance operations were transferred to a stock corporation. This was an important preparatory step for the IPO. Wiener Städtische Versicherungsverein remained the principal shareholder, but its corporate object is limited to asset management.
Until 1994, Vienna Insurance Group was an unknown quantity on the international capital market. Then, in October of 1994, the company ventured to have itself listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. Only preferred stock was listed, not common stock, and the public float was limited to a modest 11%.
Ten years later, in early 2004, the general manager at that time kicked off a large-scale stock-market offensive. The Group, already in the midst of its successful expansion to Central and Eastern Europe, went about opening itself up to the international capital market in order to procure the necessary financial means for further growth. In order to prepare for the capital increase the shares of preferred stock, unpopular among investors, were converted into common stock. The shares were split, and in September 2005 it moved up into the ATX, the benchmark index of the Vienna Stock Exchange.
Introduction of the umbrella brand “Vienna Insurance Group” in 2006
Starting in early 2006, the Company introduced the umbrella brand "Vienna Insurance Group". The new umbrella brand is intended to demonstrate the cohesion of the insurance companies in the Group, which will continue to operate under the names and brands they have established in their local markets as part of the Group’s successful multi-brand strategy. The Vienna Insurance Group is a big family, in which each Group company bears its own brand as a given name and the Group brand Vienna Insurance Group as a family name.
Cooperation with Erste Group and acquisition of insurance business
The cooperation between Erste Group and VIG began in Slovakia in 2003. In 2005, the cooperation was extended to the Czech Republic and Croatia. 2008 then Vienna Insurance Group acquired the entire insurance business of Erste Bank for EUR 1.45 billion. In Central and Eastern Europe, this made VIG the market leader. Additionally, a mutual distribution agreement designed to run at least 15 years was concluded. This “preferred partnership” makes it possible for both groups to use the potential client base of the other and give preference to the other’s products in sales.
A successful capital increase despite the economic crisis
When Vienna Insurance Group acquired the insurance businesses of Erste Group in Austria and the CEE states at the beginning of 2008, the money with which to finance this mega-deal came from the capital markets. With a volume of EUR 1.14 billion, it was the largest equity placement ever done by an insurance group on the Vienna Stock Exchange, and the second-largest transaction of 2008. Since the same year, VIG’s stock has also been traded on the Prague Stock Exchange.
Group reinsurance VIG Re
Furthermore, Vienna Insurance Group founded a Group reinsurance company in the Czech Republic in 2008. The formation of the company VIG Re that has its registered office in Prague is a clear signal for the Central and Eastern European region as core market of Vienna Insurance Group with excellent growth potential.
Corporate structure redesigned
In 2010, as part of a restructuring, Wiener Städtische’s operating business in Austria was separated out from the international holding company activities. The change has enabled VIG to focus on the task of managing the Group, as well as on the reinsurance and international corporate business. The transparent structures and processes created within the Group have allowed management to become more efficient.
VIG gained access to the last blank areas on the map of CEE
By entering the markets of Montenegro in 2010, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011 and Moldova in 2014, VIG gained access to the last blank areas of the map of Central and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the Group is successfully active in 25 markets with around 50 companies and about 25,000 employees.