OPINION

Emporiki sale stirs the waters

The sale of Emporiki Bank, one of Greece’s five largest lenders by assets, to France’s Credit Agricole presents the local banking sector with a unique opportunity. The entry of the French giant – Credit Agricole is the leading banking group in the eurozone – into the Greek market is expected to stir the waters of the domestic sector and change the rules of the game which have so far been set by its local counterparts. The government of New Democracy, which openly backed the privatization of Emporiki Bank, anticipates that the French takeover will help make Greece’s banking system more competitive on a global level. The conservative administration also hopes that the local market will not see a repeat of past practices when foreign banks entered the country only to quickly adapt their tactics and policies to the distorted conditions of the domestic sector. Credit Agricole will have the unique advantage of exploiting the broad network of Emporiki outlets and customers, which is by no means comparable to the often single-digit number of branch stores of other foreign banks in Greece. One hopes that the French giant will live up to the expectations that have arisen with its arrival. In the eyes of the public, Credit Agricole would make a huge contribution to the local banking system if it helped to narrow the gap between the lending and deposit rates which is wider in this country than the European average. In France, as well as in other European countries, Credit Agricole has followed a policy of keeping narrower interest rate spreads. One also hopes that the French bank will follow a similar policy in Greece and not give in to the temptation of making additional profits by mimicking the anachronistic methods of Greek banks.