(Bloomberg) -- Germany, long scorned as one of Europe’s least-profitable banking markets, is luring an increasing number of foreign lenders seeking to tap into its large population.

Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA on Wednesday said it intends to open a digital bank there, ING Groep NV of the Netherlands wants to expand its presence too, and Banco Santander SA announced last week it’s partnering with Apple Inc. to build its German consumer finance business. JPMorgan Chase & Co also has plans to offer digital consumer banking in the country.

For lenders contending with declining interest rates, growth in Germany represents a chance to find new sources of revenue in Europe’s most populous market. That’s especially the case if the effort involves mostly digital services, which makes expansion comparatively cheap as it requires less spending on staff and infrastructure. 

Germany is a “strong economy and attractive in terms of population,” BBVA Spain head Peio Belausteguigoitia said when announcing the lender’s digital plans for the country, confirming an earlier Bloomberg report. ING retail head Pinar Abay on Monday made similar comments, calling Germany “the largest retail revenue pool in Europe.” 

It’s a dramatic shift in perception for a market that is home to more than 1,000 banks and has long ranked below much the rest of the European Union in terms of profitability and efficiency. The intense competition has historically fostered an attitude among consumers that they don’t have to pay much for services. 

Germany is “still over-banked and that leads to peculiar pricing,” Peter Barkow, founder of Barkow Consulting, said by phone. “Many Germans haven’t heard of these brands, even Chase,” he said, referring to JPMorgan’s consumer brand.

New entrants to Germany “will have to spend a lot of money on marketing” to win over clients, Barkow said. “Germans tend to get divorced more frequently than they change accounts.”

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