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With 2016 just around the corner, the outlook for the European banking sector in the new year looks more promising than it has been for almost a decade. Growth, though meagre, has returned to many business segments and regions. Despite unrelenting pressure on interest margins, total revenues are expanding. Asset quality is improving and profits in 2015 may be the highest since 2007. The biggest questions surround the future path of regulation (where another major round of tightening could paradoxically threaten the recently hard-won stability) and of the European and global economy (which has repeatedly and substantially surprised to the downside in recent years) in 2016.
As digital processes reshape commerce and social life, payment service providers are striving to offer users instruments to transfer funds in a way that matches this immediacy and ubiquity. With the payments market in such a flux, the ECB is pushing banks to provide at least one pan-European instant payment solution in order to prevent a re-fragmentation of the Single Euro Payments Area. However, instant services can be based on different technical set-ups: closed-loop, open-loop and decentralised payment networks. There is an opportunity for new technologies and providers to cater for user needs and win market share. Innovation in instant payments will not alter the economics of payments, though. Positive network externalities and economies of scale in electronic processing will probably lead to a consolidation around a few instant payment systems in the long run.
Available data suggests that OTC derivatives are primarily used to hedge business risks. The perception that the OTC derivatives market is an inter-dealer market looks exaggerated; by contrast, non-dealers are the investors in the majority of trades. Derivatives may thus help the efficient distribution of risk in financial markets.
The creation of a European Capital Markets Union (CMU) aims to establishing a single market for capital to complement bank financing. In this paper, we make a quantitative assessment of the European stock, bond and securitisation markets to look at the CMU’s potential. Our results reveal that liquidity and IPO trends in European stock markets are similar to those in the US. However, market integration has slowed down in recent years, which the CMU could counter by harmonising company, securities and insolvency laws. European corporate bond markets have become a notable alternative to bank lending but their investor base remains restricted, which the CMU should address. The securitisation market in Europe has performed well throughout the crises and its revival is a sine qua non for lending to regain traction, especially to SMEs. The CMU should thus target a less punitive regulatory treatment for this market segment.
Contrary to what some critics say, traditional banks would be well advised to start using digital and algorithm-based data analysis instruments now. In future, this will be the only way they can offer their customers personalised financial services and recommendations and continually optimise their internal processes. Should they hesitate, however, the technology-driven, non-bank market newcomers will continue to extend their information lead and in time begin to offer more financial services (also outside the retail banking segment) that are easy to standardise and automate. The latter would further intensify cut-throat competition in the financial industry and could reduce traditional banks in the case of some financial services to pure-play infrastructure providers with declining customer contact. The introduction of so-called recommendation algorithms should be accompanied by the mandatory consent of the customer and transparent communication on how they function.
After literally seven lean years, the European banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis is now in full swing. Profits are at their highest level since 2007, revenues are growing across the board (helped by favourable currency effects) and loan losses are falling. Banks are also expanding business volumes. Capital ratios are on average substantially above Basel III requirements, though uncertainty has increased recently due to a pending further regulatory tightening (“Basel IV”).
Reform of deposit guarantee schemes (DGS) in the EU has followed a gradual approach. The latest reform established common requirements on financing for national schemes but funds remain separate. The debate about the future of DGS has been revived recently, though. The five presidents' report on completing Europe's Economic and Monetary Union put DGS reform back into the larger reform discussion and identified deposit insurance as one of the areas of the Banking Union still pending completion. While joint deposit insurance may seem a rather long-term option, several short- and mid-term suggestions to complement DGS have been raised. They put an emphasis on adapting the current setup with a view to increase back-up financing capacity of individual schemes. Ideas include i) strengthening the network of DGS and possibilities for bilateral lending, ii) establishing a reinsurance scheme, iii) developing a common fiscal backstop to national DGS.
Big data is a hot topic. The large digital platform operators in particular have long recognised the economic potential of algorithm-based data analysis. They demonstrate this to billions of customers professionally every day. With their analytical technologies they generate high revenues and tie us loyal customers ever more firmly to their platforms via convenient and, above all, individualised services. A steadily growing number of companies want to imitate this lucrative lock-in effect so they can also capitalise on the benefits of big data. Nonetheless, in many sectors the implementation of modern data analysis tools is proceeding only sluggishly. Contrary to the expectations of some market participants, big data is not a simple add-on.