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Banking consolidation in the GCC requires attention to competition

Pietro Calice's picture
Also available in: Arabic | French
National Bank of Abu Dhabi - Ijanderson977 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
National Bank of Abu Dhabi, UAE. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gulf banking markets may have entered an important phase of consolidation, with the potential to dramatically reshape both the role and the intermediation capacity of the industry. A few days ago, two large banks in the UAE, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank, agreed on a tie-up to create a national champion and regional powerhouse with $170 billion in total assets. In Oman, Bank Sohar and Bank Dhofar are in advanced merger talks. Bank mergers are expected to take place in Bahrain and Qatar as well.

The protracted downward trend in oil prices is threatening economic growth and fiscal sustainability in the region. This is having an impact on the banking systems. Banks are increasingly facing pressure on liquidity in the face of both private and public deposit outflows. This coupled with a low interest rate environment in the context of pegged currencies is eroding margins. Capital buffers are strong yet asset quality may deteriorate if oil prices remain low for a prolonged period and economic growth decelerates further. Therefore, in a context largely characterized by fragmented markets, consolidation may help achieve efficiency gains and ultimately preserve financial stability.

However, it is important that banking consolidation in the Gulf does not come at the detriment of competition. International experience shows that healthy bank competition generally promotes access to finance and improves the efficiency of financial intermediation, without necessarily eroding the stability of the banking system. Bank competition in the region is traditionally weak largely due to strict entry requirements, restrictions to bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions. While increased market concentration does not necessarily imply greater market power, there is a risk that the current and prospective wave of industry consolidation may have long-lasting negative effects on competition if left unchecked.

Quote of the Week: Tidjane Thiam

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Tidjane Thiam"You can commit to what you control; if you commit to what you don’t control, you are just a fool.”

Tidjane Thiam, in response to criticism of his new plan for Credit Suisse. Rather than dramatic restructuring seen at other banks, Credit Suisse will reduce the amount of risk-weighted assets by about a fifth and raise equity through a combination of increasing capital by $6.3 billion from sales of shares, scaling back investment banking, slashing costs and a modest shake-up among senior management.

Thiam is a French Ivorian businessman and former politician who became the Chief Executive of Credit Suisse in June 2015. Born in Côte d'Ivoire, he holds dual Ivorian and French citizenship.  

Eighteenth annual international banking conference: The future of large, internationally active banks

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Also available in: Español | العربية

international conference cover and logo image

On November 5–6, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago hosted its annual International Banking Conference, which we at the Bank co-sponsored. This year’s topic “The Future of Large, Internationally Active Banks,” which we picked to correspond to the topic of our upcoming Global Financial Development Report (GFDR) is very timely and important given that regulatory reforms addressing large, international banks, which will affect the economies around the world, are still ongoing. For example, just a few days after the conference, on November 9, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) issued its final Total Loss-Absorbing Capacity (TLAC) standards, which is expected to make banking systems more resilient by addressing the too-big-to-fail issue and was one of the issues hotly debated throughout the conference.

Uncanny resemblance: Greedy bankers and critics of PPPs

Michael Klein's picture
Normally critics of the private sector like disparaging the greed of bankers. Many bankers in turn take a dim view of people who do not see the value of endeavors involving the profit motive. Yet, as the French say: “Les extremes se touchent” – sometimes extreme views have more in common than they care to admit.
 
In one such case, both bankers and critics of public-private partnerships (PPPs) are happily united in dumping risks on unsuspecting taxpayers – precisely the citizens whose interests they profess to serve. How so? 
 
Banks are unusual firms. They carry little equity relative to debt – often no more than five percent of total assets at best. Typical firms in other sectors would find such levels of equity positively dangerous. They often carry equity worth 50 percent of assets, many even more. 
 
Bankers say equity is expensive and debt cheap. Hence low leverage – little equity as a share of assets – makes sense. If that were it, firms other than banks would be fairly dim-witted. They should also load up on debt and thus lower costs. So why don’t they?

​The Things We Do: Is the Culture of Banking Dishonest?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Despite its relevance to the broader economy of states, there exists little empirical information on the culture of the banking industry. Identifying the effects of business culture poses several challenges because comparing employees in one sector to those in another can be misleading. Some professions may naturally attract different kinds of people, making it tricky to separate cultural factors from individual ones. Moreover, the financial industry is broad and comprised of many different kinds of businesses and institutions, with some more focused on the consumer and others more focused on fiscal details.

Attempting to shed light on the subject, academics from the University of Zurich designed an experiment inspired by the economic theory of identity.  Identity economics states that economic choices are not only based on personal taste but also on what an individual considers to be appropriate.  Whether a choice is appropriate or not depends on a person’s social identity– their sexual orientation, race, religion, occupation, or where they live.

In the experiment, 128 employees from an international bank, with an average of 11.6 years of experience in the financial sector, were split into two groups. About half of the participants worked in a core business unit, like private banking, asset management, trading, or investment management.  The other half worked in support units like human resources or administration. They were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group.

Capping the Bank-Fund Annual Meetings: Chiding Ethics Lapses, a Spokesman for an Even Higher Authority

Christopher Colford's picture



Amid the week-long procession of buttoned-down, business-suited speakers who commanded the stage during the Annual Meetings week of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the most thought-provoking comments may have come from someone who was not outfitted in business attire at all – but who was instead wearing a clerical collar.

It seemed fitting that the remarks by (some might say) the week’s most authoritative participant occurred on a Sunday morning, at an hour when many Washingtonians habitually heed an authority even more elevated than the Bank and the Fund. The major attraction at the IMF’s day-long “Future of Finance” conference was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose stature lent a special gravitas to the already-serious tone of the Fund forum’s focus on scrupulous ethics as a bedrock principle of sound capitalism.

On a panel with some of the titans of worldly finance – including the leaders of the IMF and the Bank of England – only someone of Welby’s ecclesiastical renown could have stolen the show. Although he did his down-to-earth best to try to avoid upstaging his fellow panelists – quipping, “I feel rather like a lion in a den of Daniels at the moment . . . slightly nerve-wracking” – the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion was clearly the marquee draw for the throng that packed the Jack Morton Auditorium, spilled beyond the extra overflow rooms and jammed the adjoining corridors.

Citing the need for “heroism in the classic sense” to overcomethe spirit of “recklessness” that recently pervaded much of the financial industry, Welby called for a return to “ethical and worthwhile banking.” He urged everyone working in finance to aim to “leave a mark on the world that contributes to human flourishing.”

Welby – himself a former financier, who traded derivatives and futures before he joined the clergy – recounted the misgivings of the mournful bankers whom he had interviewed while serving as a member of the U.K.’s Banking Standards Commission in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Welby recalled the lamentations of a deeply penitent banker who had been “broken by the experience” of leading his bank to ruin: In retrospect, reasoned the banker, “you can either have a big bank that’s simple, or a small bank that’s complex, [but] you cannot have a big complex bank and run it properly. . . . If only we had kept things simple.”

Welby’s call for the highest standards of conduct in the financial sector was matched by the exhortations of his fellow panelists – including IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who reminded the audience that every financier must see himself or herself as “a custodian of the public good.” Lagarde's message was underscored by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney – who also leads the global Financial Stability Board – who deplored the pre-crash “disembodiment and detachment of finance” from the rest of the economy.

Only by upholding the most exacting ethical standards, said Largarde and Carney, can financiers rebuild public confidence in the financial sector – confidence that, in Lagarde's words, “builds over time and dies overnight.”

The regrets voiced by the panel’s private-sector financiers contributed to the panel’s almost confessional tone.

“If we can’t get the basic incentives right, it’ll be hard to get the right outcomes,” said Philipp Hildebrand, who had served as a senior central-bank official during the financial crisis before returning to the private sector. He reflected that “with wrong incentives, you end up with a wrong business model,” which in turn attracts “the wrong kind of people” who are prone to take excessive risks. Thus he underscored the need for “a personal transformation” within the spirit of every business leader.

Putting an even sharper point on the source of the problem, longtime financier Kok-Song Ng regretted that “a virus entered the system” in the years leading up to the crash, as financial firms deliberately recruited profit-driven “mercenaries” to run their trading desks. Those firms ignored the explosive risks being taken by their hired-gun traders, because they succumbed to “the great temptations for those in ‘the money world’ to want to make a quick buck” no matter how dangerous their tactics might be.

Quote of the Week: Raghuram Rajan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Central bankers have had enormous responsibilities thrust on them to compensate, essentially, for the failings of the political system. And my worry is we don’t have sufficient tools to do that, but we’re not willing to say it. And, as a result, we push as hard as we can on the existing tools, and they may create more risk in the system.” 

- Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India since 4 September 2013. Prior to his post at the Reserve Bank of India, Rajan was chief economic adviser to India's Ministry of Finance in 2012 and chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007.
 

The Things We Do: Saving for Change

Roxanne Bauer's picture

At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.

Saving money is hard.  However, it is also considered to be necessary for making large purchases like a house or car, opening up a business, or planning for retirement. Saving can be particularly difficult for the poor who live day-by-day and do not have much disposable income.  In wealthier countries, financial institutions offer a variety of products to help their clients set aside savings, but in poorer countries, there are fewer savings options. Many poor people end up hiding cash, investing in assets such as livestock or land, or engaging in informal savings arrangements

Yet, for those who have even a little money to stow away, the benefits can be enormous. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have found that even those who live on less than $1 per day have the ability save and often spend money on nonessential items such as alcohol, tobacco, and televisions.  Moreover, when poor people increase their earnings, they spend only two-thirds of their increased income on food.  These findings suggest that poor people do have funds to save.

But why is it so difficult for people of all income levels to save?

Quote of the Week: John Maynard Keynes

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“A sound banker is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.”

- John Maynard Keynes, a British economist whose ideas have fundamentally affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, and informed the economic policies of governments. He built on and greatly refined earlier work on the causes of business cycles, and is widely considered to be one of the founders of modern macroeconomics and the most influential economist of the 20th century. His ideas are the basis for the school of thought known as Keynesian economics, and its various offshoots.


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