ECONOMY

Credit Lyonnais returns; focus on corporate clients and investment

Credit Lyonnais (CL) is returning to Greece after an absence of about five years, with plans to focus this time on lending to merchant shipping and securitization where it has considerable experience, says Vice President Alain Papiasse, who is also the head of investment and corporate banking. Eurocorp Securities, which had long acted as CL’s broker, is acting as a vehicle for the return. The French bank is to buy the majority interest in the Greek firm, owned by France’s Banque Worms, while the other shareholders will keep their shares. The formal completion of the deal may take up to a year but is not in doubt, says Papiasse. For his part, Eurocorp’s chairman, Ion Koufopantelis, confirms «we have agreed on our integration into Credit Lyonnais» and «have clear instructions to expand both into stockbroking and investment banking.» CL’s strategy now is to return to and seek growth in countries where it had been forced to shrink operations or altogether abandon business in the last 10 years, after a failed expansion bid. «The bank is now completely free of past burdens,» says Papiasse. The sale of its assets in Europe, mainly in retail but also in corporate banking, took place at the insistence of the European Commission, in order for it to approve the French government’s measures for its salvation, he explains. In Greece, it sold its seven branches to EFG Eurobank in 1997 and its assets in Piraeus Bank in 1998. It also withdrew from Portugal, Italy, Germany and Austria. «We decided to return to selected countries, no longer buying banks but bringing our know-how in corporate and investment banking,» says Papiasse, who explains that CL combines the attributes of both a commercial and an investment bank. «The Greek market is important to CL for two reasons. First, there was the interest our former clients maintained in Greek enterprises, and second, our extensive know-how in the global transport and merchant shipping industries… «Greece is very important for shipping… We did cover shipping companies from Paris but believe that it would be more important for us to also have a base in Greece.» Eurocorp was the right partner, not only because of a long past relationship but also because Banque Worms wanted to withdraw and the Greek firm preferred to continue with a French partner. Besides stockbrokerage, CL also has an interest in privatization consultation services, asset management, and structure and project financing. Meanwhile, Credit Agricole has made a friendly bid for Credit Lyonnais, while BNP Paribas maintains a rival interest, after recently buying the French government’s 10.9 percent stake. The issue is expected to be resolved by about mid-March, says Papiasse. «If the process is completed, as we hope, we shall have the biggest French bank and one of the biggest in Europe,» he adds. The new bank would have an estimated 25 percent share in the French commercial banking sector and would be the biggest in asset management, life insurance and consumer credit. Credit Agricole also has a active partnership with the Commercial Bank of Greece but, as they are active in different fields, their business may prove complementary to CL’s, says Papiasse. Finally, he makes it clear that CL has no intention of proceeding with more acquisitions and that it plans to bolster its presence by «bringing in» specialized staff or sending Greek staff for further training in Paris.