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The forces driving digital structural change are complex, and “predatory competition” is certainly an inadequate description of all the effects it is having on established sectors and structures in their entirety. That is why other aspects are making a fundamental contribution to the change. These include the exponentially rising volume of data, the penetration of web-based devices, popular familiarity with the internet, network effects and economies of scale, broadband expansion, the potential for automation and standardisation, the readiness to adapt and the flexibility of established providers, changes in demand and consumption patterns as well as stricter regulatory measures.
In sections of the financial industry there are many web- and data-based financial products and services that customers cannot obtain from either their bank or a similar provider. Non-bank, primarily technology-driven providers are increasingly entering the markets for less knowledge-intensive and easily standardisable financial services. Despite valuable comparative advantages that traditional banks have to offer they need to undergo a radical course of innovation therapy during the digital transformation process. To this end modern data analysis methods should be used just as routinely as a seamlessly integrated web of all distribution channels. Modern technologies and appropriate finance-specific internet services need to be implemented efficiently and above all in a timely manner. Strengthening one's own brand and identity as well as the obligation to handle client data confidentially will also help to deliver a sustained increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty.
SMEs’ access to finance remains a pressing problem in many parts of the euro area as SMEs largely rely on bank loans for funding. Our findings show that it is mainly the banks’ own refinancing costs in capital markets and their risk perceptions regarding SMEs which give rise to constraints. Of the steps taken to spur bank lending, the ECB’s LTROs seem to have had limited success. Securitisation of SME loans on the other hand has the potential to bridge the gap between SMEs’ funding needs and the availability of bank loans. Public-sector and market-based initiatives to improve SME financing are of great importance as well: for the former, private-sector involvement is crucial; as for the latter, overall success has been mixed so far.
The half-year results of large European banks offer ammunition to both optimists and pessimists: loan losses and administrative expenses are shrinking, but so are total revenues. Net interest income, the sickly child of recent years, finally seems to be stabilising; however, net income is down again to poor levels. The state of an industry with two distinct faces.
The transatlantic integration of financial markets has suffered a serious setback since the crisis of 2007. Since then, the countries affected have fundamentally overhauled the regulatory framework governing financial markets. However, this stricter regulation has led to regulatory divergence: Divergent rules on capital, liquidity, derivatives and banking structures are threatening to fragment the financial markets. Slightly divergent national policy preferences, the institutional framework and the relevant partners' differing ideas on reform have been the main factors driving this unfortunate trend. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) provides a good opportunity to lay strong institutional foundations for regulatory cooperation on financial services as well. Responsibility for creating internationally harmonised rules on financial market regulation rests with the G20 leaders.
Current results are still very weak, with total revenues and profits both at the lowest level since 2009. But the largest European banks can justifiably draw hope from a stabilisation in interest income as well as fees and commissions, from declining loan loss provisions and shrinking expenses. The bottom line may have broadly bottomed out, though pressure from litigation charges and the ECB’s balance sheet assessment remains high. New record capital levels abound.
In our empirical analysis we investigate the substitution between weak bank lending and lush bond markets and we show that rising bank CDS spreads are consistently associated with positive growth in securities underwriting and negative growth in loan syndication. This suggests that banks and clients switch funding instruments in times of financial stress. In this regard, a well-developed bond market is an important element to increase financial resilience as it offers an alternative source of funding for the real economy and an alternative source of revenue to banks. However, we also note a worrying trend towards financial fragmentation during times of stress which limits diversification potential.
The fundamental transformation of the European banking sector into a leaner, less profitable, low-growth but also more stable industry in the “new normal” continues to make progress. Banks are shedding assets, reducing costs and raising capital ratios, with revenues in 2013 having declined for the third consecutive year. Legacy assets and litigation remained an additional, significant burden. Nonetheless, profitability has improved somewhat from its extremely low levels and may well rise further this year.