Deposits at Bank of Ireland are soon to face charges in the form of negative interest rates after it emerged on Friday that the bank is set to become the first Irish bank to charge customers for placing their cash on deposit with the bank.
This radical move was expected as the European Central Bank began charging large corporates and financial institutions 0.4% in March for depositing cash with them overnight.
Bank of Ireland is set to charge large companies for their deposits from October. The bank said it is to charge companies for company deposits worth over €10 million.
The bank was not clear regarding what the new negative interest rate will be but it is believed that a negative interest rate of 0.1 per cent will initially be charged to such deposits by Ireland’s biggest bank.
BOI was identified as one of the most vulnerable banks in Europe in the recent EU stress tests – along with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), AIB and Ulster Bank’s parent RBS. All the banks clients, retail, SME and corporates are unsecured creditors of the bank and exposed to the new bail-in regime.
Only larger customers will be affected by the charge for now. The bank claims that it has no plans to levy a negative interest rate on either personal or SME customers but negative interest rates seem likely as long as the ECB continues with zero percent and negative interest rates. Indeed, they are already being seen in Germany where retail clients are being charged 0.4% to hold their cash in certain banks such as Raiffeisenbank Gmund am Tegernsee.
The news came days after it emerged that FBD, one of Ireland’s largest insurance companies, have been moving cash out of Irish bank deposits and into bonds. Fiona Muldoon, the FBD CEO cited extremely low returns on deposits and bail-ins as the reason they were withdrawing cash from Irish banks and diversifying into corporate and sovereign bonds. Muldoon said as reported by the Irish Independent that
“As they mature, and as the bank bail-in rules come into play, it’s no longer the case that for corporate investors depositing at a bank is risk free,” she added.
“To be honest, the return is abysmal now. We’ve gone back to a more typical investment portfolio for an insurance company.”
“You have to be paid for the risk you take,” she added. “You might entertain the bail-in risk if you were being properly paid. But if you’ve a bank trying to charge you for leaving your money with them, you’re not inclined to take any risk at all.”
The monetary policies being pursued by the ECB and other central banks is making deposits, banks and the banking system vulnerable. Central bank policies are contributing to individuals and companies withdrawing deposits from banks which is making already fragile banks even more fragile.
It is important to note that while there are “deposit guarantees” in place in most jurisdictions in the EU, these guarantees are only as good as the solvency of the nation providing them. Many nations in the EU remain insolvent or at least border line insolvent. Thus, the deposit guarantee level of €100,000 in many EU states and £75,000 in the UK is likely to be arbitrarily reduced to lower levels in the event of deposit “haircuts” in the next banking and financial crisis.
Prudent retail, SME and corporate clients are realising the increasing risks facing their deposits. They can no longer afford to simply leave their deposits in a single bank account or indeed even in a few bank accounts. Diversification into other assets, including an allocation to physical gold, is becoming an important way to hedge the risks posed by negative interest rates and bail-ins.
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