Citibank calls for Tiresias to be beefed up

The head of Citibank in Greece yesterday urged that Tiresias Bank Information Systems be given a broader scope to facilitate responsible lending by banks in the face of growing indebtedness among a segment of consumers. Chris Vassiliades, general manager, said Greek households have yet to take on more debt than they can handle, substantiating similar claims by the Bank of Greece based on its recent survey of household indebtedness. «However, there are some borrowers, especially credit cardholders and those who have taken out personal loans, who may have borrowed more than they can afford,» he said. Vassiliades said part of the problem stems from the shortcomings of the Tiresias system which only provides statistics on new borrowers. «Tiresias must provide historical data on borrowers which will allow banks to adopt a more responsible lending policy,» he said. He said intense competition and banks’ fear of rivals poaching their clients had hampered efforts to broaden the scope of the credit bureau. Vassiliades also warned that credit quality could deteriorate with the government’s decision to postpone the implementation of International Accounting Standards to 2004 instead of this year as originally planned. The delay came as a large number of companies complain they are far from ready for the accounting change. In retail banking, Citibank is preparing a more aggressive move into the mortgage and small and medium-sized enterprises markets. The bank is to launch a fixed interest rate for mortgages next week which will be the cheapest in Greece on top of the variable mortgage rate, the lowest in the country, said Vassiliades. «We believe it is time for consumers to consider fixed mortgage interest rates because of the 15-year repayment period,» he said. It would also give consumers an idea of the total amount owed to banks. Other new products in the pipeline will target small and medium-sized companies, a fast-growing and high-margin market set to be the next battleground for banks after retail banking. Citibank is also proposing to expand its geographical reach with 43 new outlets planned over the next two-and-a-half years to reach a total of 100 stores. First-quarter results showed a 7 percent increase in revenues and a 3 percent rise in profits from the year earlier. The bank did not give full-year guidance.