2020 KBC shareholder meeting

I live-tweeted the 2020 shareholder meeting of KBC. You can read it on Twitter, in the Threadreader app or below:

Net interest margin in 2019: 1,95%

CEO Johan Thijs: 9% increase non-life insurance fees (KBC is bank-insurance company)

FYI: you can follow meeting here:
livestream.com/kbcstreamingse…

KBC had €216 billion assets under management in 2019 (I wonder how much will remain in 2020…)

KBC pays €491 million euro in bank taxes!

Continue reading “2020 KBC shareholder meeting”

Criminals, banks and criminal bankers

How do you move millions of dollars from one place to another?

Obviously, you use a bank.

But what if the money is dirty?

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has documented several laundromats, e.g. the Troika Laundromat.

A laundromat is a scheme of shell companies and bank accounts to move money – often Russian money – offshore. The investigations read like a spy novel, full of criminals, politicians, lawyers and bankers.

For example, this article explains how Moldovan judges enabled flows out of Russia by authenticating guarantees on “defaulted loans” between shell companies.

Sometimes, bankers looted their own institutions, see The Vienna Bank Job for details.

Fascinating stuff, involving major Western banks as well.

How should authorities respond to these illicit activities?

In the EU, several countries have jointly proposed to create a centralized anti-money laundering (AML) supervisor.

Joshua Kirschenbaum has pointed out that the U.S. could counter malign financial activity by targeting banks that facilitate organized crime.

Germany’s export-led economy and the consequences for its banks

In the thread below, Benjamin Braun explains Germany’s political economy. More specifically, he and Richard Deeg studied the interaction between the financial and non financial corporate (NFC) sectors.

Let me try to summarize the argument.

The German NFC sector has high profits (1) and runs a trade surplus (2).

(1) enables companies to finance their own investments. They don’t need to borrow money from banks.

(2) leads to an inflow of reserves and deposits at banks. As a result, German banks lend to foreign entities.

This seems a sensible story.

However, I don’t agree with the conclusion:

First of all, I highly doubt any policymakers really want to help German banks. If that were the case, the monstrosity of publicly owned, unprofitable banks would have been cleaned up by now.

But even if German politicians cared, it’s not clear that stronger unions or higher wages would be more than a drop in a bucket.

A higher demand for credit would have an immediate positive impact on German banks. And there is a lot of room for growth.

Home ownership in Germany is low compared to non-German speaking countries, as you can see in this picture from Eurostat.

Stimulating home ownership would boost the demand for mortgages.

More investment by the government, as called for by industry and labor unions, would also increase the domestic supply of assets for banks if it’s funded by bonds instead of taxes.

If Angela Merkel wants some more advice, she can leave a comment 🙂

Three ways to attract new bank customers

Any banker will tell you that it’s not easy to attract and keep new clients. Why do people change banks? I see three reasons:

  1. Home buyers get better terms on a mortgage compared to their existing bank.
  2. Savers get a higher interest rate on their savings.
  3. The new bank has better services.

Roughly speaking, (1) is the stategy of traditional banks. Online savings banks attract deposits with (2) and fintechs employ strategy (3)1.

Let’s apply this framework to NewB, a new Belgian bank (yes, it’s really called NewB). How easily it will attract customers?

  1. You can’t get a mortgage at NewB.
  2. The interest rate on its savings account will be zero percent, which is less than the minimum of 0.11% at other banks.
  3. Finally, there’s no indication that it will delight customers with superior services.

So NewB scores zero out of three.

Yet NewB’s business plan expects the bank to have 277 million euro in deposits by the end of 2024.

Some Chinese banks offer pork meat as a reward for opening an account. Maybe NewB should give an Impossible Burger to new customers? Otherwise, this is gonna turn into Mission: Impossible.

Where do banks make money?

The FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data) database is a treasure trove for bank geeks.

Bank’s return on assets by nation is one of many statistics that can be visualized with GeoFRED (click this link).

As you scroll through the years, you’ll notice a few patterns.

Return on assets is low in Western and Southern Europe, as well as in Japan.

Banks in the Americas, Africa and Central Europe achieve higher returns.

I’m curious to know what conclusions bank CEOs and regulators draw from these maps.

What are your thoughts?

Further reading:

Where in the world are banks profitable? (FRED blog)

Rethinking bank profitability (FT Alphaville, free but registration needed)

Cross border financial services: Europe’s Cinderella?

‘Banks make money out of thin air’ is a confusing slogan

Banks do not create money out of thin air. That’s the title and argument of an article by Pontus Rendahl and Lukas Freund in VOX.

Unsurprisingly, people on Twitter took issue with the authors’ claim:

I find this polemic boring and unproductive.

Boring, because I explained the misconceptions surrounding “money from thin air” in Bankers are people, too. (If you have a copy of the book, see page 38).

It’s also unproductive, because a slogan is not an insight. VOX claims to provide ‘Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists’. It’s a sad state of affairs if leading economists produce more heat than light by using slogans.

Scientists don’t argue about slogans. Insight follows from identifing the relevant mechanisms or from looking at empirical findings, not from these endless ‘debates’.

That’s why Bankers are people, too contains so many drawings of simple balance sheets and discussions of behavior and incentives. I wanted to be crystal clear, not become yet another vague economics guru.

Do better, economics community…

Cross border financial services: Europe’s Cinderella?

The Belgian Financial Forum and SUERF held a colloqium about cross border financial services in Europe.

An impressive line-up of speakers from the public and private sector discussed why European banks don’t sell more services outside their home countries.

Some pointed out that regulation is still fragmented along national borders – despite the banking union.

But the recurring theme of the day was the lack of profitability. There is no business case for mergers and acquisitions. Countries like Germany and Italy have way too many banks.

Chart by Morgan Stanley, via Johannes Borgen

The industry would be better off with fewer players, but nobody wants to take over small banks with wafer-thin margins.

You can read my Twitter thread about the event here.

The slides of the presentations are available here.

AI lawsuits are coming

AI will disrupt finance, but not in the way some tech bros think.

In a viral thread, David Heinemeier Hansson describes how Apple Card discriminates against his wife. Nobody at the company can explain how the algorithm makes its decision. Just “computer says no”.

That’s the kind of bureaucratic horror you expect from an old-fashioned state-run company. Ironically, Apple markets its credit card as “built on the principles of simplicity, transparency, and privacy” and “Created by Apple, not a bank”.

Yeah, I’ll stick to my bank, thanks.

If you can’t explain your AI, lawsuits are coming.

Long lawyers, short black box AI.

What’s behind the low valuation of European banks?

Great explanation by Johannes Borgen on Twitter:

In summary: banks are more robust than they used to be, but they have profitability issues.

To learn more about bank stocks, listen to the recent episode of Odd Lots with John Hempton.

See also this thread by Marc Rubinstein:

I also blogged about bank stocks in my 2017 post A lost decade (for bank investors).

Why KBC Group has a larger market cap than Deutsche Bank

See my tweets from a couple of weeks ago. I’ll have more to say on the blog (including the potential merger/acquisition of Commerzbank) if I find the time…