NBG’s marriage of chemistry

ISTANBUL – At the top floor of the Finansbank headquarters in Istanbul’s bustling business district of Esentepe, Finansbank’s chief risk officer and his team of Turkish colleagues are walking a tightrope as they integrate a Greek and a Turkish bank. Since the incorporation of Finansbank into the National Bank of Greece (NBG), after it acquired more than 80 percent of the Turkish bank last year, experts have seen increased investment activity and interest from Greece to Turkey. But Chief Risk Officer Dimitris Anagnostopoulos knows well that the success of the last year has been more than meets the eye. For him the biggest achievement of the acquisition has been Finansbank itself with all that its structure entails. So far the integration process has run smoothly because of the existing structures within the Turkish bank. The chief risk officer in an exclusive interview with the Turkish Daily News said NBG saw this advantage from the start. «We decided, assessing the project, that one of the biggest ‘assets’ we acquired was the whole set-up of the Finansbank management quality and organizational structure. This was positive evidence that I came to realize more and more, that this initial assumption was actually right.» The set up of the bank has many similarities to multinational companies, said Anagnostopoulos, and the structure that he found there was thanks «to the culture that the former main shareholder had given to his ‘baby,’» he said. «It was in line with other very sophisticated institutions.» Of course, Anagnostopoulos admitted that, to be able to work with a Turkish bank, it really helps that he doesn’t come from a totally different culture, but from a neighboring country. «It was easier because I was not coming from, say, a Northern European country, but from a Mediterranean culture,» he said. There are different models used in acquisitions. In a multinational banking environment, where Anagnostopoulos spent 18 years before joining NBG and Finansbank, the integration process would take a different course of action and things would be done differently. «Why was it successful? Usually when you go through a marriage process it takes two to tango and the chemistry worked. Or let’s say we managed to make it work from our side, and they managed to make it work from their side,» he said. And just like any good risk officer would, he threw in more of the variables that could have gone «wrong,» but which instead made the whole deal «right.» «Characters make a difference, communication makes a difference. When you just fly in here and you are all at once the representative of the parent, you can imagine the challenges,» he said. Staying on target Looking back over the year, taking into consideration the feedback from both NBG and Finansbank as well as the performance of the NBG group, Anagnostopoulos said, «it seems» all is in line with the group’s target. «The main target was to make the integration in line with the group strategy and at the same time keep the dynamics, the existing history and all its set up,» he said. «Which, at least for 2007, I’m happy to say, looking at the published results of the third quarter year-to-date, that the dynamic growth was not distorted in any way through the integration process.» Anagnostopoulos said that the September 2007 year-to-date results show that Finansbank has made a strong contribution to the growth of the NBG group. «That is very good news and it’s the evidence of a successful 2007 and integration process during which we didn’t slow down the dynamic growth it had before, but accelerated it even more,» he said. «If you compare strategies and results of other multinational foreign players and Turkish banks, I think you will find that our outcome has been one of the most successful.» In the last few years, the Greek-Turkish trade volume has reached record highs, nearing $3 billion. Those doing business between Greece and Turkey say that the NBG purchase in Turkey has only helped to boost the economic ties of the two countries. Anagnostopoulos, an insider, concurred. «What I am sensing is that the whole process of the extension of the NBG business in Turkey was a very positive help for Greek businesses that were attracted to the Turkish market,» he said. «Now I feel that a lot of companies feel more comfortable that they have the support of NBG, which is a sizable player in a market that seems to be moving and becoming more attractive than before, with all its relevant risks. Things are much better than before.» He said that improving Greek-Turkish business capacities is also one of Finansbank’s targets. «We are aiming to support Greek-Turkish business activities on both sides of the Aegean.» Although Turkish businessmen show increased interest in the Greek market, it seems that because of the comparable larger size of the Turkish market as well as its growth cycle point, business activities extending from Greece will be prevailing,» he said. He said both Finansbank employees and Turkish customers have been welcoming and until now never saw the acquisition as something «hostile.» «Customers didn’t react negatively… actually they’re reacting positively,» he said. Looking ahead Anagnostopoulos said that the bank has a challenging 2008 budget, but that aside, he intends to continue promoting the contribution of Finansbank to the NBG group «and of course the second thing is to have fun with it,» he said. The group looks to promote, encourage and strengthen intra-group synergies to other Southeastern European countries where it has a strong presence. «You find business expansion from Greece to Eastern Europe, and at the same time from Turkey to Eastern Europe,» he said. As for improving his Turkish, Anagnostopoulos said, with his non-stop schedule that keeps him busy in Turkey through the week and takes him to Athens on the weekend where his wife and three children live, that may be the greatest challenge he faces this year.