If banks are no longer active, why do they still have a banking license?

During my research on banks in Europe, I came across some strange things. Here’s an example. Some banks have a banking license in a country, while the banks themselves say they are no longer active there:

LBBW has a banking license in Luxembourg according to the ECB.

LBBW doesn’t mention Luxembourg on its global locations site. A 2012 article says LBBW pulled out of Luxembourg.

Credit Europe has a banking license in Belgium according to the ECB.

But Credit Europe says it has stopped its activities in Belgium in 2016.

Bank of Scotland has a banking license in France and in the Netherlands, according to the ECB. But the bank says it does not operate internationally.

What’s going on here?

International bank divestments

From the 1990s until the global financial crisis, there was a wave of consolidation and international expansion by Western European banks. Over the past decade, M&A activity has been a fraction of what it used to be. International banks have sold part of their foreign subsidiaries, either volontarily or because regulators forced them to slim down.

Who did they sell to? Often to local or regional banks.

Examples (note that this is a work in progress!):

Africa

Barclays (UK) sells its controlling stake in Absa (South Africa and 9 other African countries) to investors (2017)

Americas

BBVA (Spain) sells BBVA USA to American PNC Financial Services Group (2020)

Asia and the Middle East

Dexia (Belgium) sells Denizbank (Turkey) to Russian Sberbank (2012)

ABN AMRO (Netherlands) winds down its corporate banking activities in Asia, Australia, Brazil and the US (2020)

HSBC (UK) wants to exit Turkey (2020)

Central and Eastern Europe

Barclays (UK) sells Expobank (Russia) to Russian financier Igor Kim (2011)

KBC (Belgium) sells Kredytbank (Poland) to Santander (2012)

KBC (Belgium) sells its minority stake in Nova Ljubljanska Banka (Slovenia) to Slovenia (2012)

KBC (Belgium) sells Absolut Bank (Russia) to Russian investors (2012)

KBC (Belgium) sells KBC Banka (Serbia) to French Société Générale and Norwegian Telenor (2013)

National Bank of Greece (Greece) sells UBB (Bulgaria) to Belgian KBC (2016)

UniCredit (Italy) sells its controlling stake in Pekao (Poland) to local investors (2016)

Alpha Bank (Greece) sells Alpha Bank Srbija (Serbia) to Serbian AIK Banka (2017)

Cyprus Popular Bank (Cyprus) sells Marfin Bank (Serbia) to Expobank CZ (Czech Republic) (2017)

Eurobank (Greece) sells Bancpost (Romania) to Romanian Banca Transilvania (2017)

National Bank of Greece (Greece) sells its subsidiaries in Serbia to Hungarian OTP (2017)

Piraeus Bank (Greece) sells its unit in Serbia to Serbian Direktna Banka (2017)

Société Générale (France) sells most of its Central and Eastern European subsidiaries to Hungarian OTP (2017-2019)

Société Générale (France) sells Euro Bank (Poland) to Portuguese Millennium bcp (2018)

Bausparkasse Schwäbisch Hall (Germany) sells its stake in CMSS (Czech Republic) to Belgian KBC (2019)

Piraeus Bank (Greece) sells PBB (Bulgaria) to Greek Eurobank (2019)

Danske Bank (Denmark) sells its unit in Estonia to Estonian LHV Pank (2020)

Danske Bank (Denmark) sells its business in Latvia to Latvian Citadele Bank (2020)

Handelsbanken (Sweden) closes its branches in Germany and Poland (2020)

For more on bank consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe, see this report by Deloitte.

Western Europe

Barclays (UK) sells its retail branches in Italy to Italian Mediobanca (2015)

HSBC (UK) wants to sell its retail banking operation in France (2020)

Exceptions

BBVA (Spain) increases its stake in Garanti (Turkey) to 49.85% (2017)

Crédit Agricole (France) buys three small banks in Italy (2017) and another one in 2020.

KBC (Belgium) buys OTP Banka Slovensko (Slovakia) from Hungarian OTP (2020)

Chinese financial statistics

Financial Market Reports, includes outstanding bonds

Aggregate assets and liabilities of Financial Institutions (banks, insurers, securities institutions)

Monetary Policy Reports, includes breakdown of loans and deposits by borrower (households, enterprises and public entities, non-banking financial institutions, overseas), lending volumes according to size of banks, Aggregate funding to the real economy according to loans, bonds, other funding; balance of payments, foreign exchange reserves

Monetary Policy Instruments, including Open Market Operations (short term reverse repo), Required Reserves (required reserve ratios), Interest Rates, Lending Facilities

Interest rates and exchange rates

Official lists of credit institutions

Albania

Cayman Islands

Dubai (query for bank/banc/banque/credit in the company name and status = active)

European Union (query for individual banks available here)

Hong Kong

Japan

Jersey

New York (query ‘Foreign Agency’ and ‘Foreign Branch’ to find the international banks in NY)

Norway

Russia

Serbia

Singapore

Switzerland

United Arab Emirates

United Kingdom

United States (national banks, supervised by the OCC)

If you know where to find official lists of banks in China, please let me know in the comments!

Green TLTRO

How can the European Central Bank (ECB) support a sustainable recovery? In a report for Positive Money Europe and Sustainable Finance Lab, Jens van ‘t Klooster and Rens van Tilburg propose that the ECB starts a Green TLTRO program.

Green TLTRO is a refinancing program for commercial banks. Banks can fund their green loans with longer term (several years) deposits from the European Central Bank (ECB). Green loans are bank loans that comply with the EU’s Green Taxonomy.

The figure below shows the balance sheet of a commercial bank with conventional (left) and green (right) TLTRO. Under TLTRO-III, the ECB funds 50% of a bank’s eligible assets. Under green TLTRO, the ECB funding is only available for green bank loans.

The interest rate on the Green TLTRO is determined by the volume of green bank loans. More green loans result in a lower interest rate on the funding from the ECB. With negative interest rates, banks have to pay back less to the ECB than they borrowed. This provides a strong incentive to banks to increase their lending to green projects, and to pass on the low rates to borrowers.

Is Green TLTRO a pie in the sky proposal? Only if you’re not keeping up with the times.

TLTROs are a well-established monetary policy tool. The ECB is currently doing TLTRO-III.

In a recent speech, ECB Executive Board Member Isabel Schnabel pointed out that climate change is a market failure. She said that collective action, including by the ECB, should correct this market failure and accelerate the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy.

Asked about the Green TLTRO report by MEP Bas Eickhout, ECB President Lagarde said that “climate change has to be part and parcel of our strategy review. Not because it is a secondary objective, but because of its impact on price stability, because of its significant impact on risk assessment and risk management. And the Green TLTRO, as you called it, is a matter that is of interest and that we will look at.”

What volume of green loans should the ECB target during the first 3 years? How low should the interest rate on Green TLTRO be? Should the eligible bank assets include loans to households for house purchases, a category that is currently exluded from TLTRO?

In a webinar on 12 October 2020, Jens van ‘t Klooster discusses the Green TLTRO proposal with Isabel Vansteenkiste (ECB) and Frederik Ducrozet (Pictet).

Update 2020/10/18: this is the video

Full disclosure: I have done consulting work for this report.

Random reads summer 2020

Banking update August-September 2020

  • ABN AMRO exits all its non-European corporate banking activities
  • CaixaBank and Bankia are planning a merger
  • HSBC wants to sell its French retail network
  • Rumors of a merger between Credit Suisse and UBS

The strategy of European banks ever since the Global Financial Crisis has been to focus on profitability1. How do you achieve a higher return on equity? There are two commonly followed options. Either you cut costs, e.g. by merging banks in the same geography and closing down the redundant branches. Or you sell the business, especially when you’re an also-ran outside of your home market.

The education business

Two insightful articles by Adam Keesling (Napkin Math) on education and content creation:

Why MasterClass isn’t really about mastery (tldr: MasterClass doesn’t compete against universities, it sells credibility and inspiration)

Why software is more profitable than content (tldr: “Content products talk to humans, while software products talk to computers. That’s why the value of content decays faster than the value of software.”)

Alex Zhu (TikTok) also discusses the challenges of online content and learning at the beginning of this interview:

His key insights:

  • people want light content, both as consumers and as creators
  • education goes against human nature: most people use their smartphone for communication and entertainment, not to learn