NEWS

Commentary

The striking merger between Greece’s two largest banks, National Bank and Alpha Bank, not only gives rise to a gigantic – by Greek standards – financial institution but also is the prelude to the gigantic endeavor necessary to carry out a huge task to the benefit of the entire banking system and the Greek economy. The conditions are undoubtedly favorable and this is also due to the experience that the boards of both banks have. However, since there is nothing in the international financial market which can ever be taken for granted or considered safe, the merger between these two major institutions is inevitably a wager for Greece as well, whose outcome will be decided in the future. Many analysts have aptly pointed out that an agreement of this caliber did not take place in order to overwhelm domestic competition. Rather, it was decided on in view of the intense pressure that major European financial institutions will put on Greece in the near future, and in order to obtain the greatest possible share for Greece’s banking sector within the single monetary zone. This is perhaps what the National Bank administration had in mind when four months ago, on the occasion of the purchase of Interamerican by a foreign insurance group, it said that we should not underestimate the danger of businesses losing their national character. So, what is the aim now? The new group, with greater assets and market capitalization, should offer Greek consumers the same competitive goods and services as other European institutions. Economically speaking, this means more favorable terms for consumers and above all, higher quality services. In the financial market this entails higher returns on savings and investment products and lower lending rates. And all this in an environment with improved services for consumers. But the recent merger, if it is to achieve the above, implies drastic cuts in operating costs and the integration of electronic data, products, administrations, branch offices, and mentality. This will, no doubt, constitute a demanding, time-consuming, delicate and complex process.