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The success of the bank is not measured by the number of its customers, but by who they are

06 December 2010 / 17:12:39  GRReporter
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The banking system in Greece will undergo radical reforms in the coming years and the policy of financial institutions should focus on customers, not on interest rates. This is the idea the participants in the tenth anniversary banking forum shared.

"This is the third crisis for us. It all started with the US financial crisis in 2008, and then was the recession that spread around the world due to the US financial crisis, and now we have the debt crisis," says Viron Ballis, Deputy CEO of Eurobank EFG. He said the requirements set by the Commission to regulate the banking sector in Europe, known as Basel 3, will have serious consequences for institutions – they set very strict rules for much higher capital adequacy, and stricter rules for risk management. "Times are difficult for commercial banks and they will have to learn to make a correct choice of customers," recommends Viron Ballis.

He expects a new model of the banking system to be established. "We thought until now that we should serve a large customer base in a simple manner and with less cost. Large investments were made to buy systems for fast and automatic service. This played a bad joke to us - we lost the contact with the customer, we do not know the customer, we made the customer impersonal. Well, this model has to change. Because if you are to know what the risk of a transaction is, you must know your customer well, what the customer’s capabilities are," is the opinion of the Deputy CEO of one of the largest Greek banks.

Viron Ballis argues that this is not a typical Greek problem. Millions of people throughout the world were enabled to come to the banks, not to invest their savings but to obtain loans - to buy a home, a car, go on holiday. In other words, to buy goods, which they can not afford in practice." A lot of people were unable to cope with the challenge to control how many loans to get and indebted beyond their capabilities. We, the bankers, also made a mistake as we have assumed that our customers’ incomes will continuously grow," admits the representative of Eurobank EFG.

Of course, this does not mean that the banks will stop serving customers on a large scale tomorrow. What must change is the way of customer contact. "We must know who our customer is and what the customer’s ambitions for the future are, but also the capabilities to achieve them. Now success is not dependent on the number of customers who use banking services but on the depth of these services. These are the customers whose lives are connected with the bank - there is the account to receive the salary, the customer’s savings are there, there the customer pays the bills, there are the customer’s insurances," explains Viron Ballis. According to him, the way out for the commercial banks is a kind of private banking for key individual customers and it should be done under conditions of strict cost control.

Such a policy is not unprecedented in the world and is already applied in Britain, says Anthony Thompson, president and founder of Metro Bank - the first new major bank in Britain for 150 years, which placed the customer at the heart of its policy, not the interest rate. "We found that only 7 percent of our customers are interested in the interest rate when choosing to which bank to trust their money. In fact, they are most interested in having a branch near their home or office and secondly, a friend or relative to recommend them one or another bank," says Anthony Thompson. His bank has been found only a few months ago but is already a hit in the UK. It succeeded to bust four myths - the branch is dead, the interest rate is everything, no one transfers accounts, you can make money only by cutting costs. In his opinion, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter will become the most important means of communication for the banks.

Andreas Athanasopoulos, the Manager of the National Bank of Greece, however, disagrees. He notes that currently there are two key words for the Greek bankers - the provision of liquidity and retaining deposits, which flow out abroad. "We can not afford the luxury to compete with other Greek banks, when people prefer to put their savings abroad or in their mattresses," he is explicit. According to him, the organization inside the branch could be improved by removing the strict specialization of staff - one to deal only with credit cards, the other only with home loans, and the third to deal with customer accounts payments. "Customers who are late to pay their loans are our biggest concern at the moment. If we knew them better before we gave them the credit we should have less problems now," admits, however, Andreas Athanasopoulos.

What is most alarming for Andreas Tapradzis, Manager of Post Bank, is that 61 percent of the Greeks believe that banks have played a negative role for the economic crisis in the country. "When the customer enters the branch, he feels uncomfortable. This must change," he says.

Michalis Vlastarakis, CEO of Eurobank EFG, expects the role of Internet banking and e-banking to strengthen. "We have to focus on the customers we already have and see how we can serve them even better. These customers who meet their obligations in such difficult times need a different attitude. Indeed, our first concern now is liquidity, how to keep the customer deposits that began to flow out of Greece. How we support customers who have difficulty paying their loans. But the next day will come. Economic development will come and then we can talk about the needs of customers from home loans, business loans. Then we should know better the records of the customers with both deposits and loans, and generally the whole movement of money in their accounts," says Michalis Vlastarakis.

Tags: BanksCrisisDepositsLoansInterest ratesCustomersManagementCompanies
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