ECONOMY

Citibank opts for careful growth, will expand outlets in ’05

After expanding its network to about 60 branches at the end of 2002, Citibank plans to take a pause, but will resume building new branches in 2004 or 2005, the general manager of its Greek operations said yesterday. «We will stick to our goal of reaching 100 branches in 2005,» Christos Vassiliadis told reporters. He added that Citibank, which had launched the so-called «small and flexible» branch concept in Greece, would introduce cashiers into all its branches; he predicted that other banks would follow. The fact that the world’s largest banking group, in terms of assets, plans a momentary pause in physical growth in Greece, does not mean a pause in business expansion, however. It still wants to extend its market share in consumer banking from the current 4 percent to 7 percent. It is just not as aggressive in its expansion plans as are other foreign banks. There are two reasons for that: First, as a long-established presence in Greece it does not worry about gaining, and maintaining, a toehold in the market. Second, there are a number of factors, including the possibility of economic downturn, with all its attendant consequences, that make the bank tread carefully. Vassiliadis mentioned the housing market as an example where prices, and activity, may take a sharp turn downward after the 2004 Athens Olympics. As for corporate loans, the bank’s strategy is to target small and medium-sized firms. However, there is still the danger that a possible downturn could lead to loan defaults. Citibank expects 10 percent profit growth from last year’s 79 million euros.