Emporiki Bank, the former Commercial Bank of Greece, expects a «marginal» improvement in first-quarter profits this year, and a significant improvement in 2003 results, the bank’s chairman, Yiannis Stournaras, told shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting yesterday. «Group profitability (in the first quarter) will be marginally stronger» year on year, Stournaras said. Last year, first-quarter results had showed group pretax profits at 35 million euros. Stournaras said he was satisfied with the bank’s performance and optimistic about its prospects. He quoted Bank of Greece data showing that, in February, Emporiki’s home loans were growing 2 percent faster than in the banking sector as a whole, while consumer loans grew 5 percent faster. This means Emporiki is gaining market share in both sectors. Yesterday’s AGM approved the 2002 results, as well as a dividend of 40 cents per share. Last year’s profit, after taxes and minorities, was 52.2 million euros, a 64 percent drop compared to 2001, the biggest suffered by Greek commercial banks. This was due mostly to a steep decline in financial transactions, including share trading, as well as extra costs incurred from the group’s restructuring. Stournaras referred to last year’s difficulties and added that a positive development was the write-down of the group’s portfolio, without affecting the capital adequacy ratio. Another positive development, he said, was a reduction in the number of employees. The bank will continue to pare excess personnel, a legacy of the bank’s years under state control, by hiring four people for each 10 retiring for the next few years. The bank aims to double revenue from retail banking over the next three years. Crucial to this goal is the Pegasus operational model, which is already at a pilot stage and is expected to be adopted by all bank operations by the end of 2004. This model will help in the restructuring of the operations of the bank’s branches, and the expansion of alternative networks. It will also help improve credit risk management systems, thus boosting profitability. Stournaras devoted considerable time to the efforts at restructuring the group through the merger of subsidiaries, such as the merger of the bank’s two insurance subsidiaries into Emporiki Life and the creation of new subsidiaries, such as Emporiki Asset Management and Credicom. The latter will begin its operations this summer. All these moves have taken place with the active cooperation of Emporiki’s main partner, minority shareholder Credit Agricole.