BNP Paribas expands credit, banking in East Africa, and more

BNP Paribas expanded its balance sheet by 23% (!) in the first quarter of 2020, as companies took out emergency loans in response to the coronavirus panic.

Sean Pawley talks about banking in East Africa on the Palladium Podcast (discussion about banks between 6:50 and 22:15). Multiple issues with banking in Rwanda and other countries in the region: economy runs on cash payments -> banks lack reliable data on borrowers -> high default rates -> unstable banks, high interest rates and fees, preference of cash over bank deposits. His solution: a narrow bank that eliminates credit risk. Provide a cellphone-based payment solution. Collect payment data. Based on the data, start making loans.

European Payments Initiative

A group of 16 European banks are working on a unified card and digital wallet that can be used across Europe.

The founders of the European Payments Initiative (EPI) include all major French, German and Spanish banks.

I’m curious why Intesa Sanpaolo1 and the Austrian and Nordic banks haven’t joined.

A pan-European payment solution is long overdue. Payment providers like Visa, Mastercard and PayPal have profit margins that European banks can only dream of. Increased competition and lower prices would be great for sellers and consumers.

Links: Yemeni money, IT migration screw-up, ECB response to Covid-19 and more

Some interesting articles I came across recently:

Yemen has two governments (civil war), one currency, and two monetary systems.

IT project management horror story at German Apobank (in German).

Overview of the Eurosystem response to the pandemic.

What central banks have done to help the economy survive Covid-19

Central bank responses to the pandemic. Source: Banque de France

Historical lessons from large increases in government debt

Euro area economic expansions are like Tolkien’s Elves: they don’t die of old age. The most recent one was murdered by corona.

(On a sidenote: I’ve been critical about the lack of blogging at the ECB. But it turns out that the Banque de France’s Eco Notepad is an excellent blog, as the four articles above show!)

All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

How may clicks to open a bank account? (Built for Mars on the user experience of retail banking)

The Economic Foundations of Industrial Policy: an amazing longread (very long!) on productivity, explaining why rich nations are rich

Ancient history: “In 2003, refinancing via LTROs amounts to 45 bln Euro which is about 20% of overall liquidity provided by the ECB.” (On June 18, 2020, banks borrowed 1.31 trillion euro from the ECB via TLTRO!)

The case for a corona consolidation of European banks and insurers

Many European banks and insurance companies are trading well below their book value.

Large firms can unlock a lot of value by taking over smaller competitors, thanks to the negative goodwill. Consolidation would support the profitability of the financial industry.

Italy

Italian banks in particular would benefit from a consolidation of their fragmented domestic market1. In February, Intesa Sanpaolo launched a bid for UBI Banca. UniCredit should consider a similar deal with Banco BPM, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena or BPER Banca. Also, French BNP Paribas could merge its subsidiary BNL with one of those banks.

Spain

Spanish banking is already quite concentrated. Santander took over Banco Popular in 2017. The integration was completed in 2019. Santander and BBVA could acquire Bankinter, Bankia, or Banco de Sabadell. Of course, further domestic growth of the majors depends on regulatory approval. The two global Spanish banks definitely have the expertise to execute such an operation.

Figure 1 shows the number of bank branches relative to population for Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. It’s clear that Italy and Spain have a lot of potential for cost cutting.

Figure 1: Commercial bank branches per 100,000 adults in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Source: World Bank.

Portugal, Poland and the Netherlands

In neighbouring Portugal, Banco Comercial Português seems a good match for Santander. Especially since both Iberian banks are active in Poland. Speaking of Poland, Santander and ING might be interested in mBank. mBank is owned by Commerzbank, a bank that desperately needs to focus its strategy.

A foreign group could shake up the uncompetitive Dutch market by buying ABN AMRO. However, as most of ABN AMRO is still state owned, this will be complicated.

Insurance

Many listed insurers like Aegon, NN Group (NL), Ageas (BE), Baloise, Swiss Life (CH) or UnipolSai (IT) trade at a significant discount to their book value. This could be an opportunity for big insurance companies AXA, Allianz and Zurich Insurance Group.

Consortiums of buyers could also divide the operations of their targets (although there is a bad precedent for this scenario).

Exciting times!

Update 9 June 2020: Banco Sabadell plans to close 235 branches

Update 23 July 2020: Marc Rubinstein at Net Interest came to the same conclusion: “Coming out of Covid, when banks realise they don’t need such a large physical presence, further consolidation is likely. What’s more, if equity valuations don’t recover, banks may be able to use negative goodwill to cover restructuring charges.”

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?