Group 20+1 conferred Herbert Stepic, CEO of Raiffeisen International Bank Holding and deputy chair of Raiffeisen Zentral Bank Österreich AG (RZB) board of directors, the European Banker of the Year 2006 award, Group 20+1 said in a press release.

The award, issued since 1994, is the first to go to an Austrian banker, the statement adds.

With the recognition, Stepic joins the ranks of top bankers of the likes of Peter A. Wuffli of UBS AG (2005 award winner), Rijkman Groenink of ABN AMRO BANK N.V. (2004), Fred Goodwin of the Royal Bank of Scotland (2003) and Alessandro Profumo of UniCredito Italiano (2002), among others.

Group 20+1, a Frankfurt am Main-based association pooling eminent finance and economy journalists, recognised the executives leading role in tapping to the fast-growing markets in Central and Eastern Europe, the excellent performance of Raiffeisen in Austria and the CEE region and, in particular, the take-off of RZBs international arm, Raiffeisen International (RI).

The Group 20 + 1 recognises that RI has grown into the regions success story with its geographic reach being contested only by UniCredito Italiano.

RI is holding a top three placement in eight of its 16 countries of presence and a number one placement in two of the states.

In addition, under Stepics guidance, the bank has evolved into the largest western bank both in Russia and the CIS countries and continues its regionwide growth at a pace of 100,000 customers a month.

Successful performance of RI is exhibited in results for the first three quarters of 2006. Net profit in January-September 2006 doubled year-on-year to EUR 540 million, while return on equity, tax excluded, came in at 26 per cent and the cost to income ratio at 57 per cent.