Petr Harcuba: We want to be a useful partner for doctors in all fields

April 29, 2024

The EkoRent credit company has been operating on the market for over 30 years and has been part of the portfolio of Banka CREDITAS since mid-2021. For many years it has specialised in dentists, but now it is expanding its portfolio to other medical fields and wants to target mainly general practitioners. It has achieved a record-breaking year and a significant acquisition. We talked to Petr Harcuba, CEO of EkoRent, about the plans and the situation in the healthcare sector.

EkoRent continues to grow, at the turn of the new year you bought the Medical centre from J&T Leasingová společnost, a.s. What does this mean to you?
The acquisition has a significant synergistic effect for EkoRent, opening up further opportunities for development. The transaction strengthens our position as a leader in dentistry and allows us to focus more on expanding into other areas of private healthcare. At the same time, we want to increase the support offered to aspiring doctors and help them with buyouts of established practices and further development. However, the whole of last year was successful for us. Net profit amounted to over CZK 13.5 million, a year-on-year increase of 30 per cent. After the acquisition, we are currently servicing over 2,200 loan and lease agreements, an increase of more than 45 per cent year-on-year. You are expanding into other fields.

Why are you targeting GPs in particular?
In surveys on the shortage of doctors in the Czech Republic, general practitioners are at the top of the list, including paediatricians. More than 180,000 children in the Czech Republic do not have a permanent general practitioner. The paediatricians in the outpatient clinics are getting older, and there is no one to replace them. Nearly half are over 60 years old, so even more children may find themselves without a doctor in the future. According to the Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic (IHIS CZ), 700 to 900 paediatric practitioners should retire in the coming years. We would like to help prevent this from happening and offer aspiring doctors help in equipping their practices.

The situation is not good for adult GPs either.
It is true. Due to the shortage of doctors, emergency admissions are often overloaded. Although the work of a general practitioner has been undervalued for many years, a lot of medical students are currently interested in the specialisation. 200 new GPs are certified a year and that would normally be enough. But the problem is that in the previous 20 years it was much less. However, the situation is beginning to turn around, and we see great potential here. We would like to help interested parties with the purchase of established practices from older colleagues and financing of renovations, equipment and real estate. A big plus is that our services can be used by established doctors as well as those who are just starting out.

What other specialisations do you see potential in?
We do not want to limit ourselves in any way. Everyone who shows interest and approaches us has a chance. Now, we want to focus on all specialties in private healthcare, i.e. all types of outpatient clinics, including gynaecology, cardiology, pulmonary clinics or gastroenterology.

For many years, you have specialised in dentists, who make up 80 per cent of your clients. Their shortage is also one of the pressing problems.
We have been involved in the funding of dentists, primarily of their instruments and equipment, but also of the practices themselves, for many years, so we can see the main trends clearly. 600,000 people in the Czech Republic do not have a dentist. Dentists do not want to open their practice in some regions, especially border regions, but this is also true for other medical professions. However, some things are beginning to change. Doctors setting up a private practice consider a number of factors when deciding where to locate. The key factor is the potential for enough patients. Competition is one thing, but another, especially as concerns services not covered by public health insurance, is the purchasing power in the region. In this respect, large and wealthy cities like Prague or Brno will still be attractive. The same applies to their surroundings, for example the Central Bohemian ring of smaller towns around Prague. But we must not forget about the quality of life, which is a very important aspect for doctors. Not everyone wants to live in a busy and crowded city when they can live in picturesque southern Bohemia or central and southern Moravia.

Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the situation in the regions?
If I were to estimate future developments, then the shortage of doctors in the regions will gradually improve in the coming years. Not all of them, but only those that can offer a sufficiently high quality of life in terms of environment, primary and secondary education, culture, safety and services. In particular, some border areas will continue to have a problem with the shortage of doctors, and I am afraid that even very attractive incentive or subsidy arrangements will not make much difference. I am glad that EkoRent is helping to change the situation and that doctors who want to become independent can turn to us.

Is legal advice included in the service?
We offer doctors a complete package for buying and selling practices as well as a legal service. We want to help them build their own practices so that it is as easy as possible for them. Our goal is to be a partner to physicians and make financing the easiest part of the process. We can assess the quality of contracts for the transfer of a practice as well as any escrow agreements. We recommend that the payment to the seller always went through an attorney escrow or that the seller received it after the practice is registered with the new doctor. We monitor all this and “are on the field” in favour of clients.

What are the terms of the loan for doctors?
In most cases, we are able to provide a loan for up to 100 per cent of the purchase price of the object of financing, i.e. with zero co-payment from the client. Drawing up the loan agreement and maintaining the loan account is free of charge.

How long do you sign contracts for?
Loan agreements are concluded for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 120 months. Loan repayments are calculated at an interest rate that is fixed for the entire duration of the loan agreement. Therefore, repayments are not dependent on changes in interest rates during this period.

Can the client modify the terms of the loan with you?
At the customer’s request, the repayment schedule can also be changed during the repayment period. For example, it is possible to shorten or extend the repayment, defer several repayments, make an extraordinary repayment or make a one-off top-up payment. We try to be as accommodating as possible to our clients. They have the option to postpone the start of repayment for up to 6 months.

You are already part of the Banka CREDITAS portfolio as of mid-2021. What does that get you?
Above all, a strong financial background is important for further development in lending to our clientele. Without these resources, the rapid development of EcoRent would not have been possible. I also see the advantages of joining with a bank in the possibility of offering other banking products to clients. We were thus able to expand our product range to include corporate accounts and payment terminals. The corporate account is free of maintenance fees and fees for the most frequent transactions. In addition to keeping the account in Czech crowns, we also offer foreign currency accounts. Clients get a premium interest rate on the fixed deposit and a favourable rate on the Savings Account +. Thanks to the background of the CREDITAS Group, we are growing, which makes me very happy. It fulfils me that we can help even more doctors all over the Czech Republic. Clients like to come back to us.