Commercial Bank revamps image, approach to clients

Commercial Bank yesterday said it would not follow in the footsteps of National Bank, the country’s largest, and reduce interest rates, with a move depending on what the European Central Bank will do in the near future. National Bank this week pared its mortgage, credit card and savings rates after the ECB brought down its refinancing rate by 25 basis points to 2.50 percent on March 6. UK bank HSBC had set the ball rolling on the same day as the ECB, trimming its fluctuating mortgage rate by 15 basis points to 4.2 percent. «We will wait until [the geopolitical] uncertainties are resolved and also until the ECB makes the next move,» Yiannis Stournaras, Commercial Bank governor, said. Other local banks have so far kept their rates steady. Another interest rate cut could come sooner than expected. The ECB, in its March monthly bulletin, indicated its willingness to «act decisively and in a timely manner» as war clouds loom over Iraq. The European Commission early this week urged the ECB to cut interest rates to restore consumer and business confidence in case of a war. Commercial Bank, which reported the biggest drop in 2002 profits of the five major Greek banks, yesterday presented the results of its rebranding exercise which are designed to win it market share in the highly competitive retail banking market. The bank’s new profile and customer-oriented approach, at a cost of some 15 million euros over the next two years, represent «a new operational model,» said Stournaras. A new trademark and name, Emporiki Bank, aside, the principal changes are in the categorization of customers to allow for more individual handling. Analysts said the revamp of the bank’s approach toward customers is long overdue. «These are necessary measures to compete against other banks,» said Manos Giakoumis of P&K Securities. He said the focus on customer services rather than interest rate cuts underlined a change in the battle to gain market share. Commercial Bank’s new profile will be implemented in 15 outlets starting in April. It expects its entire network to be upgraded by the end of 2004.

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