National Bank of Greece (NBG) President Takis Arapoglou said yesterday more flexibility is needed in bank business hours in order to achieve decongestion at peak hours. «The enlargement of and flexibility of bank business hours will not bring additional profits to banks. It is part of the logic for better service and the more effective coverage of citizens’ requirements,» he told a press briefing. Regarding NBG’s spectacular 87 percent rise in profitability in the first nine months of the year, Arapoglou said most of it was due to savings from restructuring measures (closure or sale of subsidiaries, early retirement scheme) and one-off income sources. Core business profitability grew by about 40 percent, which is the market average, he argued. Arapoglou said the growth of mortgage and consumer loans in Greece will begin to slow down from 2006 but will continue at a much higher pace than the average in developed European economies for at least another four years, Arapoglou said yesterday. He projected that in 2005 mortgage loans will grow by 20-25 percent, consumer credit 15-20 percent, and loans to small and medium-sized enterprises by 10-12 percent. Arapoglou said NBG is putting a strong focus on the development of housing credit, along with deposits. In the first nine months of 2005, NBG’s mortgage loan portfolio reached 11 billion euros – as much as its two main competitors, Alpha Bank and Eurobank, put together. Applications for mortgage loans were up 97 percent year on year with disbursements at 23 percent. About two-thirds of disbursements were for first homes, 24 percent for second homes and 7 percent for business premises. Arapoglou said NBG is putting priority on its expansion outside Greece, but will also consider acquisitions at home according to case, including the privatization of Emporiki Bank – the country’s fourth largest, should France’s Credit Agricole, which has the right of first refusal, not win the tender for a further tranche, and the management. The NBG chief said the bank is studying offering another voluntary early retirement plan. 2004 survey According to a Hellastat survey for 2004, Greek banks disbursed a total of 126 billion euros, up 17.6 percent from 2003. This sum represented 72 percent of assets, against 66.7 percent in 2003 and 63.3 percent in 2002. Separately, Bank of Greece data show that consumer loans grew 37.4 percent, mortgage loans 26.6 percent and corporate lending 12.3 percent. EFG Eurobank was the most productive of Greek banks, with an average of 6.7 million euros of business per branch (5.13 million in 2003) and 296,000 euros per employee (227,000 in 2003).