ECONOMY

Bank provides housing loans through real estate brokers

The strong expansion of housing credit in Greece has created an intensely competitive field for both domestic and foreign banks. Just as competition is focusing on attracting clients through the mortgage company UCI, a subsidiary of BNP and Banco Santander and the traditional network active in Greece for about a year now, UCI is aspiring to turn its main liability – the lack of a bank network – to its advantage in trying to lure clients. As UCI’s head in Greece, Olivier Rodriguez, explains, behind a relatively unknown logo stand two large multinational bank groups, BNP Paribas of France and Grupo Santander of Spain, which specialize in issuing mortgages of more than 50 years. Their choice to penetrate the Greek market is an effort to bring to Greece an experiment that began in Spain seven years ago, and its success has been evident. Its innovation is to utilize the network of real estate agents as a vehicle for penetrating the mortgage sector. The innovation also extends to importing the attractive pricing of the mortgage product through low operating costs secured by cooperating with an existing sales network such as those of real estate agents, relieving UCI from the obligation to set up a bank branch network. Bringing Greece in Evaluating the Greek mortgage market, Rodriguez notes that interest rate levels in Greece are higher than those in Spain, although the two markets are both homogeneous. Their common point is the high degree of ownership-occupancy, which played a decisive factor in choosing Greece as the next step for the two groups’ expansion. The high growth rates, combined with the fact that the mortgage credit expansion of Greek households as a percentage of the gross domestic product is at 32 percent compared with 52 percent in the eurozone as a whole, have made Greece the next choice after Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Norway, where the two groups are active through UCI. The company’s director general commented on facing the incredulity of clients for not having a bank network, saying that it is a process that brings results gradually, through making potential clients aware of the reliability which the two main shareholders secure for UCI. The experience from Spain, where UCI is geometrically expanding the network of estate agents it cooperates with and the amount of loans issued, serves to prove the success of the model combining serving the client and the process of finding and purchasing a property. Today about 40 percent of Spanish estate agents cooperate with UCI, and the loan total reaches 2.5 billion euros. UCI’s market share in Spain has reached 5 percent today and will reach 2 percent in Portugal within five years, says Rodriguez, and the aim is for UCI in Greece to reach its Portuguese percentage in a much shorter period. In Greece, the network cooperating with UCI numbers about 1,000 estate agents, while potential clients can access the company’s call center giving the essential data for their loan to be provisionally approved. Clients are served through the National Bank of Greece network and being able to open accounts for paying regular installments, while insurance coverage is secured through the Generali insurance group. The objective, which is to pass the low operating costs on to the clients, is reflected in UCI products. These are six funding options that also provide trading transparency – as fluctuating interest rates are determined according to the main interest rate of the European Central Bank or the 12-month Euribor – and flexibility through the option of suspending payment of one installment annually in the first three years.