OPINION

Banking sector lacks sensitivity

The National Bank’s gaffes have not only made consumers extremely angry, but have also incurred the wrath of the government and the Bank of Greece. A hike on credit cards, just a few hours after interest rates were reduced in Europe, took the bank’s customers by surprise, leading the Bank of Greece to intervene and force National to back down. Just a few days later, the bank assigned the collection of unpaid loans from the Workers’ Housing Organization to debt collectors. Then too, it was forced to back down. And quite rightly, for just a few days earlier it had frozen loan repayments by members of weaker socio-economic groups. The actions of the largest Greek bank are not just gaffes. They are contradictions, actions that indicate the confusion prevailing in the banking sector due to the present crisis. But they also show how banks perceive their role in society and the national economy: Profit and self-preservation come first, then does everything else – natural knee-jerk reactions for an organization that answers to its shareholders and foreign investors, with little or no regard for society. Can such reflexes, however, be justified when its customers are the very people it chooses to ignore and their savings form a large part of its capital base? Greek society has made a decisive contribution to the growth of domestic banks and has benefited from low interest rates, mostly on housing loans. The benefits have been mutual as banks have been able to expand into southeastern Europe. So at a time of crisis, they have a duty to share the concerns of their customers in Greece, particularly when they are about to benefit from guarantees and a capital injection from the state, i.e. from Greek citizens. Banks have an obligation to at least show some sensitivity toward those who are essentially their life-blood.