Greeks take their money and run as potential EU exit looms on the horizon

Loukia Gyftopoulou and Nathalie Savaricas speak to concerned savers hoarding their cash in Athens

Soldiers carry the Greek flag to be hoisted at the Parthenon yesterday as the country lives through major uncertainty over its future
Soldiers carry the Greek flag to be hoisted at the Parthenon yesterday as the country lives through major uncertainty over its future

“I can’t give you my name,” he says. In Greece, days before a potential collapse of the economy, secrecy and paranoia are rife. The financial services worker, who thought the safest place to keep his money was inside his bedroom wall, says: “If I do, somebody might find me, put a knife on my throat and make me give it all to them.”

The 42-year-old and many others who, fearing capital controls or a sudden change of currency if Greece drops out of the EU, is hoarding savings. Aside from the protests against austerity measures, in Athens there is little sign of bank queues or anxiety over savings. Life continues as usual.

But Greeks are taking precautions. “There was a spot where the wall was hollow,” the financier says. “I took it down with a hammer, sealed my money in a carton box, put it in the hole and then filled and cemented the surface. I painted the whole room so that it doesn’t show – good luck digging it out.”

His worry about giving out information is widely shared. Although vocal about their fears, many Greeks seem to be reluctant to share their identity when talking about how they are trying to protect their money.

Greece may be facing a swift exit from the euro

“People are desperate for money these days,” says Dimitris, a 69-year-old from Athens. The former construction worker and his wife live on a €650 monthly pension that is “barely enough” to make ends meet. “Every month I go to the bank and lift all of my pension money,” Dimitris says. “I pay the bills and put what’s left of it underneath the mattress. We don’t keep our savings in the bank so I’m not scared of losing much, but what are we going to do if they stop paying our pensions?”

Bank of Greece figures say the €30bn pulled out of accounts in the past six months has “largely taken the form of cash withdrawals and hoarding, while the flight of capital abroad has also been recorded”. Between Monday and Wednesday, another €2bn had been withdrawn.

“I’ve sent all my money abroad,” says one 38-year-old logistics manager. “My wife recently had a baby and I couldn’t risk losing our life savings – we’ve only kept about €50 in the bank and hidden some cash at home for everyday expenses, but that’s it.”

Banks in Greece are said to be preparing to limit further the amount of cash customers can withdraw from ATMs, and even block them overnight.

A 35-year-old PR consultant and mother of a four-year-old who refused to have her real name published said her family keeps up to €7,000 in her house in case of an emergency. But despite her fears, they keep what savings are left in the banks. “I’m scared about it but what should I do – stand over my money with a rifle?” she asks. “My bank savings are only part of my concern … being out of a job, petrol or food at the supermarket is far more alarming. After all, what will I do by keeping all my money out – eat it?”

Anna, a 34-year-old history researcher, and her partner also keep money at home and regularly stock up their food supplies. She says there are so many grim warnings of what could come next, “she’d be a fool” to keep her money at the bank. “I’m concerned about the first few weeks and the panic created in society… so I’ve gone to the supermarket to stock up to avoid fighting over a milk carton if all hell breaks loose.”

Petros, 50, a retired navy officer and father of two, says he transferred his family’s entire fortune, which exceeds €100,000, to a British bank account he opened this week, after months of interviews and phone calls. “These are savings for the education and upbringing of my children – so it’s their money – I wanted to make sure to take all measures to protect it,” he says.

Petros and his wife, who works at a bank fear, that the risk of a “Grexit” has increased and are taking precautions. He is also keeping cash in a safety deposit box at a bank. But web developer Stefanos Pliakos, 36, says he belongs to a generation where having savings seems like a distant dream. “I don’t have all that much so there’s no point in shipping a few hundred euros abroad,” he says. “People are tired of feeling their lives are on hold and I think they’ve stopped caring because they see that whatever the solution, the country’s future is far from promising.”

“Even if a deal is reached, things won’t change much,” Mr Pliakos adds. “The Greek problem… can’t be solved overnight.”

Currency crisis: The key dates ahead

Sunday 21 June: possible emergency eurozone leaders’ summit to deal with crisis.

Thursday 25 June: Formal EU leaders’ summit but agenda scheduled to be dominated by Britain’s proposals for EU renegotiations.

Tuesday 30 June: Athens due to repay IMF €1.6bn. Failure to do so could mean Greece being deemed in default.

Wednesday 1 July: If Greece defaults the European Central Bank will have to decide whether to cut emergency liquidity support to Greek banks.

Monday 20 July: If Greece manages to avoid a technical default in June it will have to make a €1.4bn debt repayment due to the European Central Bank. Failure to make this payment will certainly spell a formal default.

Thursday 20 August: Another €3bn repayment due from Athens to the ECB.

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