In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Europe was hit by sovereign debt burdens. Following Greece, Ireland and Portugal, in 2013 Cyprus – which had adopted the euro just months before the crash – became the fourth country to receive a bailout from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.
The Mediterranean island’s economy shrank, and its banking industry suffered a major collapse, with the two biggest banks taking or cutting their savers deposits. The system’s credibility had been substantially undermined.
Eurobank Cyprus not only resisted those tough days, but emerged stronger. Now, 10 years since the bank started operations in Nicosia, Antonis Houry, Manager of Strategy and Business Development for the bank’s wealth management department, reflects on the bank’s strategy during the crisis.
The bank has evolved a great deal over the past decade, and now plans to exploit the opportunities in the wholesale sector. Following a strong economic recovery in a relatively short period of time, the future seems brighter for the financial industry in Cyprus.
How has Eurobank evolved since it started its operations in Cyprus?
Eurobank started offering banking services in the country in 2007, after opening an office in Nicosia, the largest city in Cyprus. Just 10 years on, it has eight banking centres in the main cities of the island. With the focus on the wholesale sector, the bank has grown significantly over the last decade while maintaining healthy profitability, a solid capital base and strong liquidity.
Eurobank’s success is due to its commitment to relationship management, achieved by offering high-quality services and solutions along with innovative products.
How do you ensure that your clients all receive the best service?
Over the years, the bank has developed a model based on four pillars. The first is corporate banking, which provides companies with a set of comprehensive financing solutions and banking services, such as lending and deposit products. We customise our offers, taking into account the unique characteristics and needs of each organisation.
Second, we offer wealth management for individuals and institutions, including a wide range of investment options, in line with an increasingly sophisticated environment. The third pillar is focused on international business banking as a gateway for companies to find international success.
And finally, the bank provides access to a broad range of financial instruments, specialised products and integrated strategies through its division of treasury and global capital markets. This service allows clients to take advantage of opportunities in currency markets, fixed income securities, commodities and energy products.
How did Eurobank Cyprus manage to navigate the 2013 Cypriot financial crisis?
Of the challenges the bank has faced over the last few years, the crisis of 2013 – which saw the banking sector in the island suffer a major setback – was the biggest. While Eurobank was not hit as hard as other financial institutions, the turbulence that plagued the industry created a big challenge for the bank. However, the bank perfectly managed to weather the storm, not just retaining clients, but multiplying them.
Because Eurobank had adequate provisions in place for NPEs, its ratio is approximately 10 times lower than the country’s average
Since it was founded, the bank has performed strongly, with excess liquidity, low operational costs and a commitment to excellence and transparency that drove the institution through difficult times. Furthermore, long-term relationships with clients based on professionalism and trustworthiness have enhanced Eurobank’s growth.
What is the current burden of non-performing exposures?
Although many banks in Cyprus faced a high volume of non-performing exposures (NPEs), Eurobank’s model allowed it to maintain, at 5.5 percent, the lowest ratio in Cyprus. Because Eurobank had adequate provisions in place for NPEs, its ratio is approximately 10 times lower than the country’s average, which is a sound indicator of the bank’s responsible operations.
How is the bank supporting the Cypriot economy?
Eurobank is contributing to both economic and social development in the country. Apart from being a source of jobs, the bank is supporting companies in other economic sectors.
Our corporate department is committed to granting small businesses loans that will facilitate investment projects, thereby promoting economic growth in the country. For example, the bank is supporting the construction of new hotels, which are creating both temporary jobs and permanent positions.
What is the bank’s approach to good corporate governance?
Since it arrived in Cyprus, Eurobank has always maintained very strong corporate governance. For example, the majority of its directors are non-executive independent directors.
The role of these external directors is to make strategic contributions, as they are looking at the big picture, not the day-to-day running of the company. These directors are important to good corporate governance because they provide a neutral point of view. Each independent director at the bank chairs one of the committees that make up the bank’s corporate structure.
How does technology help the bank cater to its clients?
Our main goal is to provide excellent service to our clients. In order to achieve this ambition, we need to have clear and open communication to assist them. Technology has been the bridge to reach and serve our clients. This is the reason we invest heavily in tech and new systems.
What kind of digital tools does the bank offer and how do they benefit customers?
Our wealth management department is a good example of what clients can do with our digital tools. Through the bank’s website, we can fully customise services both for individuals and institutional customers. For instance, they can access and monitor their portfolio online. The toolkit for Eurobank’s clients also allows them to open accounts without visiting branches and to make electronic payments.
What new technology is the bank currently working on?
We have added more services to our mobile application so that our clients can satisfy even more of their banking needs on their devices. Keeping up to date with technology and new developments requires continuous work. We are dedicated to improving our current services and are particularly aware of the risks posed by cybercrime.
We are taking all the necessary measures to ensure that all the technological tools we use are secure. This represents an important part of Eurobank’s investment in technology.
What predictions do you have for the future of the industry?
Banking is facing a number of challenges. The biggest one has arisen as a consequence of the banking crisis in 2013. Regulatory demands have been multiplying since then, imposing greater costs on banks as more employees and extra work are needed to deal with additional legal processes. For example, banks have to produce more reports and follow ‘know your customer’ rules to prevent crimes and control risks.
Increased regulations will eventually drive a consolidation in the banking sector, with a rising number of mergers and acquisitions likely to happen in the short term.
What are Eurobank’s plans for the coming years?
Developments in digital technologies have brought more competitors to the industry. Fintech companies have come into play, disrupting the sector with new facilities and pushing banks to evolve. This has been a challenge for traditional banks, which have to keep up to date with new technology so as not to be left behind. This is why Eurobank is heavily investing in technology.
Besides digital expansion, is Eurobank opening new brick and mortar branches in the country?
Over the last 10 years, Eurobank has experienced organic growth, increasing the number of banking centres on the island. We will continue to expand following the same strategy of opening new branches gradually – one or two per year – to meet growing demand in the wholesale sector.
Specifically, we look forward to expanding our services for investment funds, which are a flourishing niche market in the country. Furthermore, we plan to take advantage of opportunities in wealth management and affluent banking.