CA sees Greek springboard

French bank Credit Agricole will aim at using Greece as a springboard to enter other high-growth Balkan markets after it increased its offer to buy state-controlled Emporiki Bank, its managing director Georges Pauget told Sunday’s Kathimerini. Pauget, the head of France’s biggest lender, said in an interview that the bank is showing confidence in the Greek economy by hoping to increase its current 9 percent holding in Emporiki. «Banks in Greece offered returns higher than in other European countries. It is very important that Greece acts as a platform for Balkan countries,» he said. «We do not just see the Greek economy but the broader area,» he added. Credit Agricole announced on Thursday that it has upped its offer to buy 100 percent of Greece’s fourth-largest bank to 25 euros per share from its previous offer of 23.50 euros. The government is widely expected to accept the proposal, which values the bank at about 3.3 billion euros. A state privatization committee is expected to meet early this week and decide on the issue. Pauget also said that the French lender will boost Emporiki in the areas of risk management, marketing and human resources. «Obviously, we will help the management to change the method of administration,» he explained. «The way in which we will manage the administrative changes foresees that the biggest part of administration will be local staff,» he added. Sources say that the French player is planning to introduce an early retirement program that will target the exit of 500 employees by 2008 but also hire 250 sales people over the next two years. «We put a large emphasis on what the customer asks for, which means that the commercial activity of the branch and related time management is of major importance. This will be an important change for Emporiki,» Pauget highlighted. Credit Agricole, with a total worldwide staff of 126,000 people, is the second-largest bank in the European Union and the fifth-largest in the world. Its multibillion-euro offer amounts to what could evolve into Greece’s biggest-ever direct foreign investment and lends support to the conservative government’s economic policy ahead of October’s municipal elections.