By Jean Christou
ADRESSING non-performing loans, changing the business model, the need for transparency, and the removal of the remaining capital controls were the main challenges facing the sector, according to senior bankers at the 2nd Cyprus Banking Forum in Nicosia on Thursday.
“Stop demonising the system,” urged Eurobank Cyprus CEO Michalis Louis. Foreign investors and depositors, he said, had gradually begun to return. “Cypriots too must trust and support our banking system again,” he added.
Marios Clerides, Director General of the Cooperative Central Bank, outlined what the banking system looked like leading up to the March 13 crisis and immediately afterwards. He warned against a future bubble and against “building castles in the sand”.
Banks, he added, “should be boring”. They should work in a solid, stable, reliable and secure manner. They should ensure the loans they grant are used for the purpose they are given, and that the banks will get their money back.
“Banks in Cyprus have lost the trust of their clients and need to recover it,” he said.
The huge issue of NPLs was one of the main points made by the CEO of Piraeus Bank Cyprus, Giorgos Appios, who spoke about the priorities and action plan for the next two years that banks should follow on the road to recovery.
NPLs were the number one priority for all Cypriot banks, he said, as well as redesigning and re-evaluating their business model. “Something must change,” he added.
The Managing Director of Alpha Bank Cyprus Giorgos Georgiou said consumers needed to accept that they have to pay for services previously provided free of charge. He also said that banks must make a major investment in IT.
Bert Pijls, recently appointed CEO of Hellenic Bank Group, said banks needed to simplify their procedures and act transparently with the customer “at the heart of their decision-making”.
He said the successful stress test results further boosted efforts for the Cypriot banking system to regain depositors’ and investors’ confidence.
“The adverse economic and banking conditions present an opportunity to correct the structural distortions that brought Cyprus to this point and will lead to the establishment of a tighter regulatory framework to base the restoration of confidence and trust of the Cypriot society and foreign investors in the Cypriot economy and its banking system,” he said.
Transparency, he added, was extremely important and he referred to NPLs as the “big elephant in the room”, something that should be dealt with decisively. He also said that the deliberate practice of some borrowers not to pay their loans was “socially unacceptable”.