Savings Banks: the first savings banks were established in Austria in 1819, the idea was imported from Germany (Ersparniskasse Hamburg, 1778) and England (Ruthwell Savings Bank, 1810). After the opening of the Erste österreichische Spar-Casse in Vienna, savings banks were opened in Laibach (Ljubljana), Innsbruck, Bregenz, Split, Graz, Hollabrunn, Prague, Görz (Gorizia), Klagenfurt and Trieste. There was a total of 695 savings banks in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, 211 of which were on the territory of present-day Austria and there were savings banks in the capitals of almost every district. During the Gründerzeit (Age of Promoterism), savings banks were engaged in accepting deposits (savings books) and granting loans to the general public, particularly in the interest of meeting the needs of the communities; they were characterised by their local scope of operation, lack of proprietorship, and non-profit activities. The "Sparkassen Regulativ" of 1844, adopted as the legal basis for savings banks, stipulated state control over savings banks; from 1849 municipalities were enabled to act as underwriters. The Savings Banks Administration Act passed in 1935 was amended by the enactment of model articles of association in 1941-1979. Other laws governing aspects of savings bank activities were contained in the Savings Banks Act of 1979 (amended in 1986 and in 1993), in the Banking Act of 1979 and in the Banking Act of 1993 (adjustments to EU legal standards). Savings banks are chaired by a board of directors, the board is responsible to the Savings Banks Council, state control is exercised by a state commissioner. Since 1986, savings banks can also have the legal form of limited liability companies (a total of 22 in 1998). Today savings banks have the status of all-purpose banks; since the liberalisation of branches in 1977 the network of branches has been extended considerably (401 branches in 1970, 1558 in 1997). Around 1980 a process of concentration and regional mergers began, and savings banks in various provinces merged, especially in Carinthia and Salzburg; supraregional mergers were effected by what used to be the Zentralsparkasse savings bank (Bank Austria) and by Erste österreichische Spar-Casse; large banks also merged (Zentralsparkasse savings bank and Länderbank were taken over by Bank Austria, which also took over the majority of shares in the Creditanstalt-Bankverein AG from the Republic of Austria in 1997; Girozentrale and ÖCI by GiroCredit; merger of Erste österreichische Spar-Casse - Bank AG and the Girocredit Bank AG der Sparkassen to form Erste Bank der oesterreichischen Sparkassen AG in 1997). Between 1960 and 1998 the number of independent banks decreased from 175 to 70. The supraregional organisations are the provincial associations and, on a national level, the association of Austrian savings banks (Österreichischer Sparkassenverband, established in 1905, called Hauptverband der österreichischen Sparkassen until 1998). The latter is in charge of central economic issues such as co-ordination, decision-making, marketing, collective bargaining, public relations, training for staff and representation in international organisations, including EU meetings in Brussels. Since 1997 the Erste Bank has been the supraregional bank in which the savings banks have shares. Savings banks have many partner institutions rendering special services, such as Sparkassen-Bausparkasse (building society), Sparkassen-Versicherung (insurance agency), Sparkassen-Verlag (publishing house), Spar-Invest (investment bank), Immorent and Leasfinanz (real estate and leasing companies). Due to these partners, savings banks are able to cover the complete range of financial services for their clients. Savings banks have been interconnected by the SPARDAT-Buchungsgemeinschaft accounting network since 1969. The savings bank sector is Austria´s largest banking sector, with a balance-sheet total amounting to ATS 2,380.9 billion in 1998 (ATS 590 billion in 1987), deposits amounted to ATS 521.2 billion, the total amount loaned was ATS 1,014.9 billion; the number of employees increased from 20,684 to 25,010 between 1987 and 1998.