In the current context of high inflation and economic slowdown, and with the possibility of a recession in the horizon, it is more important than ever that savings and retail banks preserve their solvency. In this respect, the recent decision in some EU countries to impose new windfall taxes on the banking sector will further reduce the latter’s lending capacity to corporates and individuals.  

The European Savings and Retail Banking Group (ESBG) considers that what is needed in these uncertain times is a strong and competitive retail banking sector.

 

BRUSSELS, 6 September 2022 – European savings and retail banks played a very relevant role during the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to sustain businesses and families during lockdown periods and beyond, while closely cooperating with the authorities to avoid a credit crunch. They have also been publicly recognised in many jurisdictions as a relevant part of the solution to the post-pandemic economic recovery.

While the effects of the Covid-19 pandemics are still being felt, the EU economy is now facing a new crisis arising from supply chain shortages and the war in Ukraine, in which savings and retail banks continue to support their customers and economic activities in general. Even further, they are actively contributing to helping Next Generation EU funds reach the real economy, by providing additional funding through their extended network of branches covering the whole EU territory and through their expertise in risk assessment.

In the current context of high inflation and economic slowdown, and with the possibility of a recession in the horizon, it is more important than ever that savings and retail banks preserve their solvency. In this respect, the recent decision in some EU countries to impose new windfall taxes on the banking sector will further reduce the latter’s lending capacity to corporates and individuals.  These sectorial taxes are discriminatory and unjustified, as the expected increase in interest rates is unlikely to lead to extraordinary profits in the banking sector (they can even decrease if NPLs start to grow). In fact, marginally higher rates simply represent the return to a normal situation after many years of very low profitability due to the negative interest rate environment, which, in turn, has also negatively affected returns to shareholders. These new taxes have also placed financial institutions in a difficult situation with their supervisors, as the requirement of not transferring their cost to customers goes against EU legislation (“EBA Guidelines on Loan Origination” state that loan pricing should include all the costs supported by banks, including taxes).

A tax on the banking sector may also undermine the social work undertaken by savings and retail banks. Social responsibility is a core value of our members; towards their clients, employees, communities, and the environment. In this context, policy makers should carefully consider the negative impact of taxation on banking foundations which have historically been involved in investing in local communities, fighting poverty, and helping those who are the most vulnerable in society.

The EU financial sector already contributes significantly to EU national budgets under the current tax framework, and it is ESBG’s view that what is needed in these uncertain times is a strong and competitive retail banking sector in Europe that continues to fulfil its key function as credit provider to companies (especially SMEs) and families alike. Therefore, any measure that can weaken the recovery of the EU economy should be carefully considered.

Finally, we are also warning against the risk of a fragmented EU tax system and calling for more tax harmonisation across EU countries. Additional taxation at national level is detrimental to a level playing field by distorting competition within the EU internal market. A particular source of distortion arises from shadow banking activity (e.g.: hedge funds) and other non-bank financial players (e.g.: big techs or credit cooperatives) which generally remain outside the scope of windfall taxes applied to the banking sector. For this reason, we believe that uncoordinated national initiatives in the field of taxation should be avoided at all costs in order to provide the necessary conditions for a fair and even distribution of financial services to European citizens and companies; especially SMEs.