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Banks Use Lottery to Lure Savers

January 26, 1989

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ State bankers are resorting to a lottery to convince Poles to save their money rather than emptying stores of what little there is to buy.

Savers are responding enthusiastically, jamming bank counters to pledge they will keep 50,000 zlotys - about a month’s salary - on deposit for six to nine months in order to be eligible for winning cash prizes.

Few seem to care much about the lottery’s anti-inflation goal of ″freezing hot money,″ as one banking director put it, or whether their accounts will bolster the zloty in a beleaguered economy where almost every meaningful transaction is carried out in another nation’s currency, the U.S. dollar.

″Pensions are so low, I could help myself with the money,″ said one retired office clerk 10th in line at the state PKO bank in Warsaw.

They don’t seem concerned the zlotys they put into the bank will have lost value when withdrawn, due to inflation. Instead, they dream of pocketing the prizes and putting the money toward cars, apartments or educations abroad.

The top prize of 50 million zlotys is worth $98,000 at the official exchange rate or $15,000 at the more relevant black market price.

″It is a good thing for the economy - let them have it - and a good thing for me - I might win,″ said another retired clerk waiting at the bank.

Other than the lottery gimmick, widely promoted on TV and in newspapers, there are few ways to encourage savings, especially since the interest paid at banks has lagged behind inflation, which hit 70 percent to 80 percent last year.

Although one-year accounts can earn up to 45 percent interest this year, or up to 22 percent in the accounts covered by the contest, there is little inclination to deposit when the inflation rate will devalue money at a conservatively projected 50 percent this year.

The government unleashed a flood of zlotys last year when the printing presses were turned on and salaries raised following two serious waves of labor unrest. The average monthly salary about doubled to 60,000 zlotys - $117 at the official rate or $18 on the black market.

Poles took their money to the stores, not the banks.

″Ask anybody when he last saw a color TV set, deep freezer or a vacuum cleaner on store shelves,″ wrote a respected financial journalist, Piotr Aleksandrowicz, in an article called ″Bulging Pay Envelopes.″

In another story, ″Inflation and Savings: A Headache,″ he noted that Poles are not spendthrifts and in fact save more on average than Americans.

″They invest their savings in gold, hard currency, cars and household utensils,″ he said. ″The only unprofitable form of savings are bank deposits.″

The start of the zloty lottery was delayed because supplies of the entrance forms did not arrive. But once savers began registering, long lines were reported at the participating banks nationwide and the post offices where pledges also are accepted.

By mid-January, about 100 billion zlotys had been pledged, representing 10 percent of the funds deposited in the checking and short-term savings accounts included in the contest, said Marian Bartkowiak, head of the PKO savings department.

The rules provide for one prize of 50 million zloty and 10 prizes of 500,000 zlotys for savers who pledge to keep a minimum of 50,000 zlotys on deposit for nine months. Those who agree to keep the 50,000 zlotys in their accounts for six months are eligible for one prize of 20 million zlotys and 20 awards of 100,000 zlotys each.

Participants get a chance at the prizes for each 50,000 zlotys pledged. One newspaper reported a customer entering 669 times, investing 33 million zlotys.

At the PKO branch, a mechanical engineer on a pension was topping off his account at 50,000 zlotys, which represented his life savings. Should he win, he said, he would move from the single room he shares with his wife and a third person.

″Once in a life time, I will try,″ he said. ″If I win, I will try to rent a proper apartment .... Otherwise, I can’t afford a dog’s house.″

A young mother was doing exactly what state economists hoped by investing money her monther-in-law had saved at home.

″Don’t we have enough hospitals to give to?″ said another woman asked what she would do should her account be drawn when the winners are picked in August and November. ″If it comes for free, one should give it for free.

″There is a lot of hope,″ she said. ″And the more so because Poland is poor. Should it borrow money from elsewhere?″

By depositing zlotys in banks, Poles can help the economy by providing banks with capital to be lent to state enterprises, private businesses or home builders. Officials would also like to cool consumer demand, which exceeds the economy’s capacity to supply goods.

The contest won’t return enough money to banks, or keep it there long enough, to give the zloty firm backing.

″I very much doubt whether a ‘zloty 50,000 lottery’ can ever become a substitute for sound (government policy) approach to savings,″ wrote Aleksandrowicz.

Until then, the black market rate by which zlotys are transferred to dollars - at the rate of 3,300 zlotys to the dollar, rather than the government-imposed rate of 510 zlotys to the dollar - will remain so much a part of Polish life that the unofficial rate is published in legal newspapers.

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