ECONOMY

ING ready to grab opportunities in pension reform

Greece might be struggling to reform its ailing, debt-burdened social security system but, like the rest of the world, its demographic problem means the country will undoubtedly need to open up the pension system to the private sector which, in turn, means enormous opportunities for bancassurance ventures. «There is no doubt that pension privatization will take place in Greece,» Jan Nijssen, a member of the executive committee of ING Europe and chairman of the central and northern Europe region, says confidently. Last year, the Greek government embarked on an attempt to reform the state-run, social security system, IKA, based on recommendations submitted by the UK’s Government Actuaries Department. The report estimated IKA’s unfunded liabilities at 300 percent of gross domestic product, higher than any other European country. It also warned that the social security system’s deficit, exceeding 4 percent of GDP, could more than double to 9 percent without reforms. Following two general strikes, the government put the modest reform proposals on the back burner and subsequently came up with watered-down propositions, which critics said could jack up IKA’s actuarial deficit. Industrialists and traders last week said they need to study the impact of the proposals on IKA’s actuarial deficit before agreeing to the State’s reform proposals. Public employees’ union ADEDY has refused to accept changes to the status quo and is due to hold a 24-hour strike on Wednesday in protest. In an interview with Kathimerini English Edition, Nijssen said financial services and insurance group ING is poised to take advantage of the opportunities when social security reforms are eventually implemented in Greece. He said ING is banking on its insurance operations in Greece and its strategic alliance with Piraeus Bank to help it get a headstart. «Our ambition is to become and be the leading bancassurance player in Greece. And we are already very successful in the Greek life insurance market,» Nijssen said. ING’s Greek subsidiary, Nationale Nederlanden, is estimated to have a 14-15-percent share of the local life insurance market. Other ING subsidiaries provide employee benefits and mutual fund management. Nijssen says the strategic alliance with Piraeus Bank, the fifth largest bank in Greece, is expected to play a key role in bancassurance. Under the terms of the deal announced early this year, the partners will create joint ventures in bancassurance, employee benefits and asset management, with ING holding a 50.1-percent stake and Piraeus Bank the remaining 49.9 percent in the firms. The relationship between the two partners is further strengthened with cross shareholdings, with the Dutch group taking a 5-percent stake in Piraeus and the Greek bank acquiring a 20-percent share in ING’s Greek insurance operations. The bancassurance operation is to commence operations in September. Nijssen says the employee benefits venture is also due to kick off shortly, targeting the corporate market, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises. ING and Piraeus Bank’s bancassurance venture will be the second such undertaking in Greece. The pioneers are Commercial Bank and French mutual Credit Agricole which presented their bancassurance joint operation last month. ING is «totally comfortable with the competition,» Nijssen said. In addition to having the time and the dedication to making its venture successful, he said the group believes its years of experience in the Greek and global insurance market will be a decisive factor in helping it carve out a dominant role. While the joint ventures will focus on the Greek market, both ING and Piraeus eventually hope to take their partnership into the Balkans, he said. The Balkans are far from an unknown region for ING. The group leads in the Romanian life insurance market and also has a presence in Bulgaria and Turkey «We don’t have a specific time frame for setting up joint ventures in the Balkans. It depends on how fast these countries develop. We’re entrepreneurially flexible,» Nijssen said. You are referring to the views of Dr Ian Wilmut, the «father» of Dolly, Dr Rudolph Jaenisch of MIT, and others. They are very reputable people, who think they know everything. What I want to ask is this: just because these or other scientists have not developed their techniques, does this mean that the same applies to everyone? Furthermore, according to many studies, cloning animals has been far more successful since 1998. The successful cloning of goats has improved to comprise 32 percent of total embryo transplants; with cows, the figure is 80 percent, way above the 3-percent figure when Dolly was cloned in 1995. These percentages are close to or surpass the corresponding success rates for artificial reproduction. And all this has happened in the last three years, while artificial reproductive technology has a 24-year history. Of course, this does not mean there are no problems.