ECONOMY

Greek banks hold sway in SE Europe

The economies of southeast Europe (the Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus) are growing fast, offering a broad field of activity for banks in coming years. Greek banks are the biggest in the region and their presence is becoming increasingly conspicuous; such views were reportedly confirmed at a recent forum of bank executives in Amsterdam. Greek banks are «strengthening their presence and expanding their networks» in southeast Europe, notes a recent article in The Banker magazine. Greek banks increased their total investment by 33.6 percent in 2003. The largest and strongest bank in the region is the National Bank of Greece. Alpha Bank is third, EFG Eurobank fifth, Piraeus Bank seventh, Emporiki Bank ninth and the Postal Savings Bank 10th largest. The other four in the top 10 are Turkish banks. In a table of the 50 top banks in southeast Europe presented by The Banker, Greek banks account for 46 percent of the total capital, Turkey’s for 41.6 percent, Cypriot banks for 5.1 percent and Romanian ones for 4.1 percent. Of these 50, noted the magazine, only 13 can be considered large, based on the criterion of assets valued at more than $10 billion. Participants in the Amsterdam meeting said the banking sector in southeast Europe as a whole cannot be considered developed but is «learning» fast. Customer satisfaction is still low, but so are incomes. However, the prospect of EU accession for Romania and Bulgaria in a few years’ time is creating a new set of dynamics. Customers’ loyalty to their main bank appears low, which means they may easily take their business to a better newcomer. Approximately 65 percent of these two countries’ banking sectors is dominated by foreign groups. In Bulgaria, Greek banks have a market share of more than 20 percent. The most successful recipe of foreign groups for penetrating Balkan markets to date appears to be the maintenance of the names and mechanisms of the acquired banks.