German bank breaks taboo by charging rich clients for deposits

A view shows Raiffeisenbank Gmund at Lake Tegernsee, Germany. (Reuters)
Updated 12 August 2016
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German bank breaks taboo by charging rich clients for deposits

FRANKFURT: A small cooperative bank in the Bavarian Alps is breaking a German taboo by charging wealthy clients to deposit their money following the European Central Bank’s shift to negative rates.
Raiffeisenbank Gmund on the idyllic Tegernsee lake, home of wealthy actors and sports stars, will apply a custody charge of 0.4 percent to sight deposit accounts over 100,000 euros ($111,500.00) from September, said a board member.
Such accounts allow depositors to withdraw their money at any time.
Several German banks have passed on the ECB’s negative deposit rate to large commercial customers such as companies and institutional investors, but applying the charge to retail customers has been seen as a step too far.
“We have written to all large depositors and recommended that they think things over. If you don’t create an incentive to change things then things don’t change,” Josef Paul said.
Cooperative direct bank Skatbank has applied negative rates on deposits over 500,000 euros since 2014, while ecological lender GLS bank, also part of the cooperative system, is asking customers for a “solidarity contribution” to help offset negative interest rates.

LAST RESORT

The ECB has resorted to a negative deposit rate to try to encourage banks to lend to stimulate Europe’s economy, which is still suffering from the after-effects of the financial crisis. Banks, meanwhile, are seeking to encourage depositors to shift their cash out deposit accounts into other financial products.
Germany’s cooperative banking association BVR said it did not expect other deposit takers in its network to follow Raiffeisenbank Gmund’s lead.
“We don’t believe retail banking will see widespread application of negative rates in Germany, not least because of the intense competitive situation in the German banking market,” the BVR said.
Even in Gmund, the lion’s share of customers are not affected. Paul’s cooperative bank wrote to less than 140 clients, who together hold 40 million euros in deposits, about the new charge, which has already proved effective.
“Some of the customers we informed have opted for alternative investments and others moved their money to other banks,” Paul said, adding that a widening of the charge to less wealthy customers is not planned.
Raiffeisenbank Gmund is one of the country’s smaller cooperative lenders, with six branches and total assets of just 145 million euros. It has a substantial overhang of deposits, only part of which it manages to recycle as loans.
Bavaria’s GVB cooperative banking association, with 269 member banks, backed Gmund’s position.
“The ECB’s extreme monetary policy is creating considerable costs for all banks,” a GVB spokesman said.
“As a last resort, they also have to look at a means to be reimbursed for the cost of deposits,” he said.


War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

Updated 14 min 5 sec ago
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War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

  • The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis
  • Many have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict

ADEN: Cashiers sort through large stacks of money inside a ragged building that is Yemen’s central bank, another frontline in a ruinous conflict as it fights to stave off economic collapse.
The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis, with images of skeletal children in famine-like conditions grabbing global attention, but economic dysfunction appears to be at the heart of the problem.
Yemen is afflicted by what diplomats call a famine of jobs and salaries, with the central bank — headquartered in the government’s de facto capital Aden.
Running the economy from a building pocked with bullet holes in the southern port city, the bank is scrambling to revive a currency that has lost two-thirds of its value since 2015, exacerbating joblessness and leaving millions unable to afford basic food staples.
The central bank expects a $3 billion cash injection from Gulf donors Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to prop up its sagging currency amid soaring inflation, its deputy chief Shokeib Hobeishy said in an interview last week, without giving a timeline.
The potential lifeline, if confirmed, would follow a $2.2 billion infusion by Saudi Arabia to the depleted reserves of a bank that appears ever more dependent on international handouts.


Hobeishy acknowledged that the bank was struggling to assert authority over its branches outside government control, including in Sanaa, which was seized by Iran-aligned Houthi militia in September 2014.
The government moved the bank’s headquarters from the capital in 2016 following suspicion that the Houthis were plundering its reserves to finance their war effort.
The relocation practically left the country with two parallel centers of fiscal policy dealing in one currency.
Yemen’s rivals reached a truce accord last week, but conspicuously absent was an agreement on economic cooperation as the Houthis rejected government calls for the Aden central bank to handle public sector salary payments on both sides, a diplomat who attended the talks told AFP.
The central bank is now “arguably the most dangerous frontline in the Yemen war,” said Wesam Qaid, executive director at Yemen’s Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service.
“The death toll as a result of bombings or land mines and military operations stands in the thousands,” Qaid told AFP.
“Many more have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict.”


Yemen’s economy has contracted by 50 percent since the escalation of conflict in 2015 and inflation is projected at over 40 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
A weakened currency has diminished the purchasing power of millions and the private sector is haemorrhaging with businesses shutting down or making layoffs.
New Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, appointed in October, said he was seeking to revive oil exports that once contributed about three-quarters of state revenue.
But such are the fears of insolvency that many Yemenis are afraid of putting their money in local banks.
“Banks often say: ‘We don’t have money. Come tomorrow, come next week’,” said a 54-year-old school employee in Aden.
Businesses also criticize the central bank over cumbersome processes to obtain letters of credit for vital imports — in a country that depends almost entirely on food from abroad.
In a letter sent in November to the prime minister and central bank chief, Aden’s chamber of commerce voiced concern that traders in areas outside government control were struggling to import essential goods. A central bank order requires payment in cash only.
The letter, seen by AFP, said the policy had caused a sharp decline in imports in those densely populated areas, making them prone to famine.
On the other side, businesses say the rebels are obstructing traders and banks in their areas from opening credit lines to Aden.
Central bank chief Mohammed Zemam said this month five Sanaa-based central bank employees had fled to Aden over safety fears and were immediately blacklisted by the Houthis.
“We are asking the Houthis to leave the banking sector alone,” he said in a separate interview in Riyadh.
“This is the only way to feed the people.”