ING plans to expand its activities in Greece, boost partnerships

The ING banking and insurance group will retain and expand its strong position in the Greek market, Cornelis den Boer, president and managing director of ING, told Kathimerini in a recent interview. The fact that the group is constantly offering new products and improving old ones shows its commitment to the local market, says den Boer, adding that the group’s partnership with Piraeus Bank will be further strengthened through the development of bancassurance, group programs and asset management services. Recently, Piraeus Bank sold off the 20 percent stake it held in ING Life and ING General Insurance and bought a 0.15 percent stake in ING Group. The move actually signaled a tightening of cooperation, with the two firms setting up ING Piraeus Life in which each has a 50 percent stake. During the first half of the year, production of new contracts almost doubled, at 8.2 million euros. ING Group seeks to develop especially group insurance schemes through ING Piraeus. Besides this joint venture, ING Group seeks to expand other programs, den Boer says. Third-quarter data shows that the introduction of investment product Optima helped mitigate loses in unit linked funds to 4 percent, compared to the same period last year. Total nine-month results show a modest increase in turnover, 2.7 percent, especially due to the contribution of the healthcare contracts. The general insurance division shows a 5.8 percent rise to 18 million euros of new contracts, up from 17 million in the first nine months of 2003. Automobile insurance contracts increased 16.9 percent, to 9.6 million euros, whereas fire insurance contracts declined 6.6 percent, to 6.7 million euros. Den Boer says that the insurance sector in Greece would grow significantly if the tax exemption covered all kinds of insurance premiums and, especially, if people start thinking of private insurance as a necessary supplement to state-funded social security. He said that making private insurance programs another pillar of social security systems is imperative if these systems are to remain viable. This, he said, has been understood in most EU countries and prospective members, such as in Romania, where the ING Group has a well-established market share. In countries such as the Netherlands, private insurance contributions are almost as important as those of state and employer-funded programs. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and ING signed a contract for the latter to play a monitoring and consulting role in pension programs around the world. Den Boer considers the creation of a new oversight body for the Greek insurance sector a positive development, which must be immediately implemented. Its existence would promote healthy competition and effectively protect consumers from many unreliable companies. ING, for its part, more than satisfies the minimum capital requirements.