Open letter to society

Five years after the financial crisis erupted, the financial sector in Belgium stands at a crossroads in its existence. Large banks, savings banks or niche banks, banks that were aided by government, and banks that survived the crisis on their own: they all feel that society is looking at them differently, and that the loss of confidence is weighing on the financial sector as a whole. The banks therefore want to do all they can to reverse the situation. Not by thinking and talking, but by doing.

In the future, the sector wants more than previously to be the circulatory system of society. A sector that supports the economy, ensures an efficient financial infrastructure, and deals with savings and investments in a balanced manner. A financial sector, in other words, every fibre of which is at the service of people, society and the economy.

The blueprint for this future is contained in the four commitments made by the sector to society.

The banks undertake to finance the economy.

Banks have financed the economy for many years, even during and after the financial crisis. Even at times when the Belgian banks reduced their balance sheets considerably, each extra euro of savings was used in full to finance the economy.

However, the combination of tighter international capital rules and a continuously slumping economy, which affects the financial health of companies, public authorities and individuals, means the banks will not be able to meet the financing needs of the economy on their own. In a healthy financing mix for the economy, banking credit is an important element, but not the only one. Banks will therefore not only continue to finance the economy by providing credit at competitive rates where possible, they will also think constructively about alternative solutions to continue supplying the economy with oxygen.

The sector undertakes to maintain the diversified banking landscape and continue to strive for a lower risk profile.

The export-oriented Belgian SME economy is best served by a highly diversified banking landscape, with small and large banks, savings banks and commercial banks, niche banks and universal banks. The sector has begun to scale down its balance sheet, strengthened its equity and reduced its risk weighting and dependence on financial markets. It also went back to its domestic market in recent years, largely curtailed its high-risk activities and became convinced that more turnover does not always lead to added value.

Our institutions undertake to further modernise the financial infrastructure and to innovate.

The financial infrastructure in Belgium offers the best of all worlds – a unique combination of an extensive network of branches and a highly developed system of electronic, mobile and internet banking. The customer will be key to the decisions about how the electronic, mobile and internet banking model or the number of branches will evolve as the financial sector will strive to meet customer's needs. In any case, Belgian banks will have to invest to be able to resume their pioneering role in electronic and mobile payments. The sector therefore undertakes to commit itself fully over the coming years to innovation and to the modernisation of the financial infrastructure.

We undertake to continue to play our role in society.

A financial sector cannot be sustainable and vigorous, finance the economy, deal with savings and investments in a balanced manner and ensure efficient and modern payments if it lives in an ivory tower. We therefore undertake to listen to the grievances of our employees, our customers and society as a whole. We will also try and respond to all these grievances insofar as they are realistic and reconcilable with the healthy management of financial institutions.

Recent years have already seen numerous efforts in this regard. The moratorium the banks voluntarily agreed on, stopped the sale of particularly complex financial products, new codes of conduct improved relations with customers, and initiatives relating to financial training tried to promote knowledge of banks and their products. Initiatives relating to sustainable saving, lending and investment were developped to stimulate the financing of sustainable objectives, and the sector rushed to help customers in need when the restructurings of Ford, ArcelorMittal and Caterpillar were announced.

For bankers, the commitments in the strategic agenda are not empty words. They are promises set in stone, essential to the sustainable and vigorous financial sector we all want to continue to develop together.

 


Filip Dierckx, Febelfin/BNP Paribas Fortis

Michel Vermaerke, Febelfin

Luc Versele, Crelan

Dirk Wouters, Bank J. Van Breda & C°

Johan Thijs, KBC Group

Thierry Maertens de Noordhout, Bank Delen

Jos Clijsters, Belfius

Luc Aspeslagh, KBC Securities

Philippe Masset, ING Belgium

Frederic Hannequart, Euroclear

Members Bureau Belgian Bankers’ and Stockbroking Firms’ Association