NWB Bank - 60 Years

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How it all started

60th anniversary of Nederlandse Waterschapsbank: NWB Bank

Many people think the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953 was the reason Nederlandse Waterschapsbank was incorporated. However, a bank for water boards had already been a topic of discussion since 1939. In 1952, the water boards decided it was about time they set such a bank up. Their financial situation gave cause for concern, while major investments were required. In 1954, the bank's incorporation was a fact and significant capital transactions were soon effected. Nederlandse Waterschapsbank - "NWB Bank" since 2009 - became pivotal to the investment capacity the water boards needed to make and keep the Netherlands "water-proof". Read more ››

The bank grew and began financing public-sector parties other than water boards, such as municipal authorities, housing corporations and healthcare institutions, which, as a result, now have access to the international capital markets on highly favourable terms. A solid government bank with an exceptionally favourable risk profile, NWB Bank can raise funds at very low interest rates and, hence, provide low-cost financing in turn. The results are visible all around: from water management facilities and waste water treatment plants to social housing and hospitals. Financed with security - by NWB Bank. ‹‹ Go back


Glass goblet to "wet" NWB Bank's anniversary and its bond with water boards

"The goblet was too much for me. Should I drink it, I would die. I therefore bought the beaker off. For the poverty fund at the general tax rate."
This is what a newly appointed water board administrator wrote in 1847, when, traditionally, new administrators were still required to drain the "hensbeker", the old Dutch word for the traditional water authorities' goblet. Some of those goblets could contain the equivalent of two to three bottles of wine, so buying off was perhaps not such a bad idea. But at other water boards, the "goblet was drained in one gulp", so surely it wasn't that bad everywhere. Read more ››

The goblets used by water boards were usually large glass or silver rummers. Representing a feeling of solidarity, they refer to a genuine, old water board tradition. To this day, goblets are taken out of their safes to drink a toast during special events, such as "inspection dinners". This used to happen as many as five times at every meeting, but the world of water boards has become quite a bit more sober over time.

On the occasion of its 60th anniversary, NWB Bank commissioned Royal Leerdam Crystal to produce a limited edition of glass rummers to wet its bond with the water boards in the Netherlands. The goblets, which have a height of 21 centimetres and feature a contemporary anniversary engraving, have been offered to the bank's shareholders. ‹‹ Go back


How a child of Dutch Water Authorities went its own way

Former dyke reeves Adrie van den Berge and Jaap IJff are true icons of the world of water boards. They recall how Nederlandse Waterschapsbank, initially a true "child of Dutch Water Authorities", went its own way over time. About their roles as supervisory directors, about the bank's growth and about their "stormy" adventures with Neelie Kroes, Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management at the time.

The crisis made the supervisory director's role a lot more interesting

Former high-level banker Dolf van den Brink was a member of NWB Bank's Supervisory Board for 12 years, during 10 of which he chaired the Board. Until the crisis broke out in 2008, he never found it his hardest job. He feels the crisis has made the supervisory director's role a lot more interesting. With intensive shareholders' meetings and extremely committed shareholders, with whom dialogues can be conducted year-round.

Water safety is not the issue

According to Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, 2014 will be "an exciting year for the Delta decisions", although she doesn't expect elaborate debates on the need for a sound plan for protection against water. She points out the important role NWB Bank can play as a lender. A role she believes will be upheld, regardless of any future administrative reform.

A shareholder not interested in profit

For dyke reeve Luc Kohsiek of Hollands Noorderkwartier Water Board, one of NWB Bank's larger shareholders, the Bank need not make a profit. According to him, the water boards prefer to receive the benefit in the form of favourable financing terms. Their joint outstanding debt amounts to EUR 7.5 billion: "Investments we made together that were financed at low cost, thanks to our own bank."

Convinced of its own views, but without blinkers on

Under the management of Fon Koemans, who was on the Managing Board from 1981 to 2008, NWB Bank evolved from "no less than modest" to an important player in public-sector haute finance. He enjoyed managing the bank, convinced of being able to achieve its objectives. In 1996, NWB Bank achieved AAA status, putting it on the map internationally. Moreover, the first strides were taken in the field of corporate social responsibility.

A small organisation, but big business in terms of total assets

NWB Bank is one of the seven Dutch banks that will be put under European supervision by the end of 2014. Jos Heuvelman, Divisional Director, Banking Supervision, with the Dutch central bank, thinks it'll be a while for the ECB to fathom the bank's nature, although NWB Bank never kept him very busy when he supervised it. However, NWB Bank's particularly favourable risk profile will not stop the ECB from making its own decisions as to how to focus its resources in due time.

NWB Bank brought water boards major interest savings

Peter Glas, Chair of Dutch Water Authorities, would not hesitate to incorporate a bank for water boards, be it that his predecessors already did so 60 years ago. "We really should work out how much NWB Bank has yielded in interest savings," he says. He finds it no more than logical that water boards, being the "self-financed" government authorities they are, enter capital markets by themselves and in tandem with NWB Bank: "They've done so for ages."

Political dynamics posing both opportunities and threats

Ron Walkier, Lidwin van Velden and Frenk van der Vliet, NWB Bank's three current Managing Directors, are facing a challenging future under European supervision, with specific requirements, complicated market trends and political dynamics. The bank is expecting increasing regulation to result in greater bureaucracy, but is set on staying compact and efficient - "lean and mean " - itself.

NWB Bank: not a headache, but good for the public interest

Other than from commercial banks that passed into government hands out of necessity, Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem need not fear a headache from NWB Bank. Ample financing opportunities are crucial for local public authorities, housing corporations and the healthcare sector alike. Having the State of the Netherlands as its shareholder, the bank can raise low-cost funding, which he believes perfectly serves the public interest.

The social rental sector will continue to form a vast playing field

Minister for Housing and Government Services and former banker Stef Blok is responsible for the social housing market, which accounts for 65% of NWB Bank's lending. The sector's investment capacity is under pressure, but will nonetheless "continue to form a vast playing field", according to the Minister. NWB Bank, being a "lender of last resort", has turned out to be "crisis-resistant" for housing corporations as well since Lehman's collapse.

The full interview is included in the jubilee publication (only available in Dutch).

House style throughout the years

Even before the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953, the water boards realised they badly needed a surge of their own: a financial surge, given the colossal task of protecting the country against water. But the bank's creation is in fact unrelated to the 1953 catastrophe, as the plan to incorporate a bank for water boards already existed in 1939.

Minister of Finance Professor H.J. (Johan) Witteveen addresses the 10th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on 26 May 1964.

In 1952, the Dutch Association of Water Board Federations issued two major bond loans, but it was clear things had to change. A number of water boards guaranteed amounts that far exceeded their annual budgets in some cases. This had to stop.

The early eighties saw the phase-out of the card punch. An IBM computer had arrived at NWB Bank and, soon thereafter, a fax machine! These devices took some getting used to.

On 15 November 1984, His Royal Highness Prince Claus opened the newly built office.

NWB Bank couldn't be pigeon-holed as either a savings, commercial or investment bank, so it was placed in the "other capital market institutions" category.

About the book

Jubilee publication: Prominent figures on the importance and future of NWB Bank

In 2014, the year in which Nederlandse Waterschapsbank - now "NWB Bank"- celebrates its 60th anniversary, a jubilee publication was issued, which not only sets out the bank's history, but also comments on the importance of this unique government bank from various perspectives. It provides an interesting picture of the incorporation, evolution and future of one of the two public-sector banks of the Netherlands.

You may download the complete publication in PDF format here (only available in Dutch). Download PDF