ECONOMY

Alpha cutting costs

The management of Alpha Bank, Greece’s second largest, has made cost containment one of its top priorities. The plans call for a zero rise in costs both in 2004 and 2005. A restructuring of the group is also expected to bring in annual savings of 25-30 million euros. As part of that restructuring, the bank has already cut the number of branches from 479 at the end of 2002 to 445 at the end of March. The management is also looking again at investment plans with the goal of reducing amortization. Other cost-cutting measures include a gradual consolidation of its accounting, marketing and automation departments throughout the group, the complete computerization of transactions, the consolidation of all support services at a few centers, each one dealing with a different range of products, and the transfer of all archives to computers. The bank also wants to create a single computing platform for all branches abroad, both for cost-cutting reasons and to provide management with a clearer picture of activities there, thus assisting in speedier decision-making. The reduction in branches and consolidation of activities has also led to a reduction in personnel. Thus, from a peak of 9,732 employees in 2001, when the bank absorbed state-controlled Ionian, personnel figures have dropped to 9,176. In 2003 alone, 600 employees withdrew voluntarily and another 155 did so in the first quarter of 2004. The voluntary retirement program which the bank instituted in 2003 will result in savings of 121 million euros by 2006. According to sources, Alpha Bank is considering expanding its voluntary retirement program in order to compensate for increased spending that will result from the pay rises included in the wages agreement, now under negotiation. As top Alpha managers have said, the cost-cutting effort has not been carried out at the expense of the bank’s activities; indeed, in most sectors its market shares have increased. They added that they are not fixated on cost cuts and they will not bypass future expansion opportunities.