ECONOMY

Most banks plan a significant expansion of their ATM networks

The restructuring of branch networks after the spate of mergers and acquisitions that took place over the past few years was one of the big banks’ main goals in 2003. At end-2003, branches were closed and others amalgamated. As a result, the total number of branches was slightly reduced, because several of the smaller banks did not expand their networks significantly last year. What do banks, big and small, plan for this year concerning their branch networks? What do they plan to do with their automatic teller machine (ATM) cashpoints and what sort of new technologies will be introduced there? Responding to the questions above, most managers of big banks said their companies will give priority to developing their ATM networks, not only by expanding it but also by upgrading the technology. They plan to update all their ATM terminals next year, make them safer to use and offer new products and services. The trend of placing ATMs outside or inside shops, which started two years ago, will continue. On the other hand, banks will not significantly increase their branch networks. The upgraded ATMs will accept new-technology smart cards incorporating a chip, which will gradually replace the traditional credit cards with the magnetic stripe. The new smart cards will have a greater variety of uses. The emphasis on ATMs is due to the fact that more and more retail banking transactions take place through them. Though varying from bank to bank, between 40 and 70 percent of all retail banking transactions take place through ATMs. On the other hand, big banks consider they have reached a nearly «ideal» branch network density and are opening new branches very sparingly. Branches have changed their function, becoming sales and consultancy services centers to accommodate the expansion of consumer, mortgage and enterprise credit, which are expected to continue growing at a healthy pace over the following years. Following are the new year’s moves by most Greek banks concerning the expansion of their branch and ATM networks and the new services they will offer. National Bank will expand its branch network to 610 by the end of 2004, from 598 today. Last year’s priorities were mergers and relocations. New branches will be set up in fast-developing areas. At the same time, the bank will consider whether to proceed with so-called e-branches, with just one or two personnel, ATMs, computers for Internet banking and payment machines that will accept coins. National will add 274 new ATM terminals, bringing the total numbers to 1,400 by the end of the year. Customers will be able to use the new ATMs for depositing banknotes and paying bills without using envelopes, a practice which causes delays. The bank is also considering installing wireless communication ATMs aboard ships. The bank estimates there were over 90 million transactions over its ATMs in 2003, accounting for 46 percent of total ATM transactions in Greece. Alpha Bank, the official bank of the 2004 Athens Olympics, will open three branches during the Games and another three-five branches during the year, bringing its network up to 371 branches. At the end of 2002, the bank had 407 branches, but it consolidated several of them in 2003 as a result of its 1999 merger with Ionian Bank. It currently has a network of 746 ATMs and plans to set up 30 or 40 new units. Transactions through ATMs account for 73 percent of all cash withdrawals at the bank. EFG Eurobank Ergasias will have 306 branches at the end of 2004, from 301 at present. The number of its ATMs will rise to 718 from 696. EFG Eurobank Ergasias plans a series of new technology upgrades in its branches. It will, for example, install card readers to identify its customers; the latter, in turn, will not have to carry personal identity cards or passports to use in certain transactions. There will also be OCR readers to read checks issued by other banks and deposited with Eurobank. They will allow instant communication of data, allowing the checks to be cashed immediately instead of taking almost a week. Bank branches already have payment machines for the payment of bank loan or credit card installments. At the end of 2004, Emporiki Bank will have a network of 382 branches, nine more than at present. The Bank, in which France’s Credit Agricole has a significant stake, has been implementing its «Pegasus» program, which involves a radical restructuring of all its branches this year. The goal is to double revenue from retail banking operations. The bank’s ATM network currently has 670 terminals. One hundred more will be added this year, bringing the total to 770. ATM transactions account for 60 percent of total transactions of Emporiki’s customers. Bank of Piraeus has completed the reorganization of its network after a spate of mergers, most recently with the Hellenic Industrial Development Bank (ETBA). It currently has 229 branches and will add 50 more this year, some of them abroad. It will install 110 new ATMs, bringing its total network of terminals to 472. A significant proportion of transactions are conducted through winbank, Piraeus’s online bank. NovaBank added 17 branches to its network in 2003 and now has 108 (95 retail, 10 business and three private banking). It will give priority in 2004 to increasing business over its current network, although a modest expansion is also on the cards. It has a network of 207 ATM terminals, all of which are touch screens, with some being web-enabled as well. About 60 percent of all transactions are carried out through ATMs. Aspis Bank has 65 branches and plans to open five more. It has 70 ATM terminals. Egnatia Bank will soon open three new branches, bringing up its total network to 64 (plus two banking centers). It will add 10 ATM terminals, bringing its total ATM network to 82. Bank of Attica plans to open five new branches, bringing its total network to 61. It currently has 67 ATM terminals. Probank has planned to open 15 new branches in 2004 to raise its total network to 50. It will also double the number of its ATMs to 74. According to bank data, 85 percent of all ProBank customers’ transactions are conducted through ATMs. During 2003, Omega Bank more than doubled its branch network to 15. It currently has 30 ATM terminals, all able to take deposits without the use of an envelope.