The 3-3-4 of the financial sector

In general

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) exercise and the activities of the working groups in relation to the various aspects of the strategic agenda finally resulted in what the financial sector has called the 3-3-4 - referring to the 3 core tasks, the 3 keys to success and the 4 commitments that came to the fore so emphatically out of all the discussions.

The 3-3-4 looks to the future, but does not lose sight of the past. It takes account of the lessons we have learned as a sector from the crisis, and the understandable desire of society to avoid such errors of judgement in the future. But it also takes proper account of the fact that the financial sector of 2013 is not the financial sector of 2008. Banks, and the framework within which they operate have changed profoundly over the past five years, both in economic terms and in terms of regulations.

Since the start of the financial crisis, the sector has undergone a radical metamorphosis. The balance sheet total of Belgian banking was scaled down considerably, leverage was lowered, risk-weighted assets reduced, and exposure to foreign assets and dependence on financial markets has decreased. There was also significant investment in strengthening internal control structures within the banks.

Banking supervision has also been fully reformed - in other words increased and strengthened. Now, for example, the National Bank of Belgium as a prudential supervisor has the ability to reverse banks’ strategic decisions if it deems this necessary to guarantee financial stability.

The regulatory framework in which banks have to work is also much stricter now than before the crisis: a wide range of national, European and international rules ensure that banks are now better capitalised than before, but also that their liquidity position has been considerably strengthened by pursuing more stable financing as well as more liquid assets.

The Belgian banking world has always been in the vanguard of the reforms. More than ever, the sector is operating in the belief that more turnover does not necessary create more social added value, and that caution should occupy a central role. As a result, Belgian banks have a better ratio between their balance sheet total and gross domestic product (GDP), and a stronger equity position than the European average.

Thanks to the radical metamorphosis experienced by the Belgian financial sector, it now exists in a completely different social, macro-economic and financial reality. Furthermore, this new reality is constantly evolving. However, it is not always easy to have an objective debate about this because, even five years later, discussions are hampered by emotions regarding the financial crisis. This sometimes makes it difficult to draw clear, fact-based conclusions on the future of the financial sector.

Nevertheless, the financial sector wishes to enter into the debate and continue to work towards a safe, sustainable and vigorous financial model that presupposes thinking and acting in the long term. Its goal is a model in which banks play a leading role in activities at the service of people, society and the economy.

The 3 core tasks

The three core tasks for such a financial sector, which were identified by the strategic agenda as cornerstones of the policy, are as follows:

  • the financing of the economy
  • the balanced handling of savings and investments
  • ensuring a modern and efficient financial infrastructure

 

These core tasks are therefore the cornerstones of the financial model, but are simultaneously extensive and not always obvious tasks that directly affect how a financial institution thinks, operates and organises itself. They have an impact on all sectors of the financial system and on all parties that shape that system, whether banker or regulator, public authority or consumer.

The 3 keys to success

However, the financial sector can only perform its core tasks optimally to the extent that three keys to success are present:

  • Banks must be able to enter into open dialogue with all stakeholders.
  • Banks must be able to maintain an adequately sustainable profit model.
  • Society must remain realistic in the demands it places on banks.

 

See here the 3 keys to success in more detail.

The 4 commitments

The Belgian financial sector is, however, confident that it will be able to continue to fulfil its core tasks in the future. It has therefore made 4 commitments within the context of its strategic agenda. These commitments are:

These commitments will determine the contours of the financial sector in the coming years, but also long after. They form the basis of the sustainable and vigorous financial model envisaged by the sector and will continue to have an impact on the main aspects of the policy of Belgian banks.