Demand for the savings banks as an institution then crystallised in the larger towns and cities. Attracted to the possibility of earning more, countless people, mostly from the poorest social strata, left the land for the city. And since there was no form of social security – state-wide national health insurance was first introduced in Austria in 1889 – people who experienced illness, work incapacity and old age often faced the bitterest poverty.
Founding of Savings Banks in Central Europe (Gründung der ersten Sparkassen Zentraleuropas)
Relief for the poor lay in the hands of the church and monasteries. It is therefore of little surprise that a priest was one of the founding members of the first savings bank of central Europe. Johann Baptist Weber initially set up a priest's fund, which offered interest-free credit to needy citizens. In the year 1819, in the parish of St Leopold in the suburbs of Vienna, he founded the Erste Oesterreichische Spar-Casse with a total investment of 10,000 gulden – equivalent to around 140,000 Euros today.
At this time, customers of the banks were essentially made up from the state, large companies and wealthy bourgeois. Small retailers, craftsmen, day labourers, factory workers and servants had to make their way through their lives relying almost exclusively on cash and liquid exchange. However, even they were able to set aside some small amounts of money from time to time. Father Weber considered his savings bank a 'bank for the little people'. Here they would have the chance to save whatever humble amounts they could muster, with the goals, as the principle of the savings bank stated: “to establish a better provision for the future, for endowments, for support during times of sickness, old age, or for the achievement of any worthy purpose.”