Bob Diamond Builds Online Greek Bank as Investors Flee Rivals

(Bloomberg) -- Bob Diamond, a rare bull on European lenders, is building up his Greek bank to challenge the nation’s stumbling, established players.

The ex-Barclays Plc boss’s Atlas Merchant Capital LLC has committed to invest more than 100 million euros ($115 million) in Praxia Bank, according to the Greek lender’s chief executive officer, Anastasia Sakellariou. The online-focused lender was created in 2017 after Atlas acquired the banking license of Credicom Consumer Finance Bank SA.

Praxia focuses on financing small- and medium-sized enterprises in Europe’s most indebted state, and Sakellariou is well-acquainted with the problems at the established lenders to SMEs: she used to run the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, the state vehicle created to stabilize the nation’s banking industry. Greece’s four systemically important banks -- National Bank of Greece SA, Piraeus Bank SA, Alpha Bank AE and Eurobank Ergasias SA -- are struggling to offload a huge pile of bad loans they made to small companies.

“Given the positive outlook for Greece as it emerges from the crisis, Atlas Merchant Capital identified early on a significant market opportunity to build a specialized bank,” Sakellariou, 45, said in an interview Thursday.

Praxia wants even more money for expansion, and has had talks with potential investors as it seeks to raise as much as 300 million euros in additional capital by 2022, Sakellariou said. The firm currently employs 120 people and plans to hire another 300 over the next five years. It has one branch at present, and plans to expand to five outlets.

"With the presence of a strong shareholder like Atlas, we are in the best possible position to complete the buildup of the bank’s architecture and initiate our plans" she said.

SMEs account for 35 percent of the Greek economy and employ over 400,000 people, according to Sakellariou.

Diamond has previously said that he’s bullish on European banking, and has also raised money for a venture in Italy. In an interview with Bloomberg TV on September 26th, he said that consolidation will bring opportunities for investors in the region’s banks, particularly in countries such as Greece.

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