The financial sector is going through difficult times due to the taxes imposed on banks.

It has been six years now since the peak of the banking crisis. Since then, several steps have been taken in order to strengthen the banking system. European and Belgian regulation and supervision have been the subject of a reform. During this process of adaptation, the Belgian banking sector played a pioneering role as is shown by the in-depth reform of individual institutions.

In the wake of the financial crisis, banks were asked to pay special contributions to public finance:

  • In Belgium, the deposit-guarantee in case of a bank default amounts to 100,000 EUR. The banks’ contribution into this deposit-guarantee system has been considerably increased these last few years.
  • Banks must pay a new financial stability and resolution tax the aim of which is to ensure  a system of guided resolution, if necessary.
  • In the past, banks already had to pay a tax on their savings deposits. This tax however has become much higher and a new tax on the same volume has been added.

In Belgium, the total amount of specific taxes and levies on banks is estimated at almost
1 billion EUR in 2014, i.e. more than six times the figure of 2007. Between 2007 and 2014, the banks’ contribution to the Belgian Treasury amounted to more or less 4 billion EUR. There are few other European countries where taxes are as high as in Belgium.

Limits

The sector does not question its contribution to public finance or to system stability. However, the continuous increase of those levies has now reached its limit. The sum total of levies and taxes this year is the equivalent of almost 1/5th of the profit of banks under Belgian law in 2013.

Moreover, an additional taxation of 150 million EUR will be imposed on the financial sector according to the government agreement. The Banking Union leads us to a new European reality in which levies will be harmonised for all Member States. However, the national levies will have to be replaced by actual European levies, if we want to avoid excessive taxation on the financial sector up to the point where the real economy would be jeopardised.

Profitability

If the banking sector wants to continue playing its role of lender, it must ensure a profitable way of working. This will make it possible for the sector to increase its own funds – and maintain its role of lender at the same time – and improve its resilience against sudden shocks. The stress test conducted by the European Central Bank has proved the importance of this.

A structurally sound banking sector with a high level of own funds should be capable of providing  funding for the economic recovery everybody is praying for. This would be a trump card for the economy which will turn out profitably in the long run.

 

Dirk De Cort,

Director Economic Affairs

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