December 31, 2013 / 2:57 PM / 4 years ago

Greece's NBG sheds 20 pct of workforce to squeeze costs

ATHENS, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Greece's biggest lender National Bank (NBG) will axe about 20 percent of its workforce through a voluntary exit plan, becoming the latest lender to cut jobs as the sector restructures after years of crisis.

Greece's bailed-out banks have shed around 10,500 jobs since 2010, largely by allowing positions to expire when workers retire or resign, and the country's major lenders are now using voluntary redundancy schemes to further cut costs and prepare for eventual privatisation.

NBG said on Tuesday 2,510 employees would leave voluntarily, exceeding its previous aim of shedding about 15 percent of its workforce and saving some 150 million euros ($207.2 million) annually.

NBG had said previously the cost of the scheme if 2,000 employees accepted the offer would have come to 160 million euros. It declined to comment on what the additional cost would be from the larger-than-expected number of staff leaving.

Rivals Piraeus Bank and Eurobank are cutting their workforces by over 10 percent, meaning around 5,500 jobs will disappear from the three banks at a time when the country is battling record unemployment.

A fourth bank, Alpha, is expected to launch a voluntary redundancy scheme next year. Alpha declined to comment.

The federation of bank employee unions (OTOE) expects around 6,000 jobs to go via voluntary redundancy schemes.

Analysts also expect the banks to start cutting jobs in overseas operations. The big four have operations in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Albania.

"Banks are dealing with excess capacity, especially in their branch networks. The voluntary exit schemes concern domestic operations, but they will likely proceed to also restructure their foreign units," said analyst Maria Kanellopoulou at Euroxx Securities.

After a 27.5 billion euro recapitalisation in June, Greece's four major banks are restructuring to boost their capital positions and recovery prospects.

NBG employees, including staff of small lenders Probank and FBB which were taken over earlier this year, had until Dec. 30 to decide whether to take the offer.

Those who are leaving could struggle to return to employment. After six years of depression, Greece's unemployment rate is over 27 percent, more than twice the euro zone average. ($1 = 0.7239 euros) (Editing by Carmel Crimmins and David Holmes)

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