Interest rates have been negative in Europe for years. But it took the flood of savings unleashed in the pandemic for banks finally to charge depositors in earnest.
Germany’s biggest lenders, Deutsche Bank AG and Commerzbank AG, have told new customers since last year to pay a 0.5% annual rate to keep large sums of money with them. The banks say they can no longer absorb the negative interest rates the European Central Bank charges them. The more customer deposits banks have, the more they have to park with the central bank.
That is creating an unusual incentive, where banks that usually want deposits as an inexpensive form of financing, are essentially telling customers to go away. Banks are even providing new online tools to help customers take their deposits elsewhere.
Banks in Europe resisted passing negative rates on to customers when the ECB first introduced them in 2014, fearing backlash. Some did it only with corporate depositors, who were less likely to complain to local politicians. The banks resorted to other ways to pass on the costs of negative rates, charging higher fees, for instance.
The pandemic has changed the equation. Savings rates skyrocketed with consumers at home. And huge relief programs from the ECB have flooded banks with excess deposits. Banks also have used the economic dislocation of the pandemic to make operational changes they have long resisted.
There are two big questions that arise from charging depositors to hold funds in their bank accounts. The first is the benefit banks receive from now being able to pass on costs to customers. The second is the quandary savers are put in.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top