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Banking

Greek banks face up to doorstep challenge

The leaders are busy expanding in the Balkans and beyond in emerging Europe. But will buying more and more on their doorstep prove better than an organic growth strategy in the long term? Chloe Hayward reports from Athens.

GREEK BANKS ARE eagerly expanding into foreign markets. "Everybody who’s anybody is in the Balkan region," says Paula Hadjisotiriou, CFO of EFG Eurobank, the second-largest bank in Greece. For many Greek banks, the domestic market has not been the exciting story for some time.

More than a decade ago, as the small Greek market started to show signs of slowing growth, leading banks made their cross-border moves into countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Romania. The Greeks were able to exploit their ancient cultural links and trading ties with the region to quickly establish a presence.

Alpha Bank now holds an 11% market share in Albania, and a 6% share in Romania and Serbia. Eurobank commands an 11% market share in Romania and all of the top three banks hold shares of 3% to 4% in most other Balkan countries. "The top Greek banks say they are aiming for 20% to 30% of their total pre-tax income to come from their foreign operations," says Matteo Stefanel, head of origination at Marfin Investment Group and CEO of Investment Bank of Greece. "And realistically they are well on their way to achieving this."

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