Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

Europe’s banks scrap dividends to protect capital cushions amid virus outbreak

Regulators are issuing repeated calls to lenders to be prudent in how they spend capital

Credit Suisse earlier this year decided to pay out 3.17 billion Swiss francs ($3.28bn) in bonuses for last year. Reuters
Credit Suisse earlier this year decided to pay out 3.17 billion Swiss francs ($3.28bn) in bonuses for last year. Reuters

European banks are scrapping payouts to protect their capital cushions because of the fast-deteriorating economy. Cutting bonuses could be next on the to-do list.

Regulators are issuing repeated calls to lenders to be prudent in how they spend capital as the region confronts the worst recession in living memory. The European Central Bank - which on Friday urged banks to delay dividends - is now turning its attention to keeping bankers’ variable compensation in check.

“Banks, shareholders, managers and key risk takers should also take part in the rethink of where we are right now and try to preserve as much capital as possible,” European Central Bank chairman Andrea Enria said Tuesday in a Bloomberg TV interview. “Our recommendation to banks is to be very moderate on” bonuses, he said.

As with dividend cuts, Spanish banks have been among the first to kick off the Europe-wide trend, with Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria on Monday saying that 300 of its top executives waived their 2020 bonuses. Credit Suisse chief executive Thomas Gottstein signaled to Swiss broadcaster SRF that the lender may also curb variable pay for 2020 to show “solidarity” amid the crisis.

The ECB is urging restraint after coming to the aid of European banks with a raft of measures intended to relieve some of the pressure caused by the coronavirus outbreak. That includes allowing banks to draw down their capital buffers and giving them more time to tackle soured loans.

Banco Santander last week said chairman Ana Botin and chief executive Jose Antonio Alvarez agreed to donate half of their salaries to an anti-virus charity. That came after Spain’s biggest bank delayed a dividend payment to next year to help it deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Others are now beginning to follow suit.

Mr Enria, in the interview, said that bonuses right now are less of a concern than dividends because many banks have already paid them.

Credit Suisse earlier this year decided to pay out 3.17 billion Swiss francs ($3.28bn) in bonuses for last year. Deutsche Bank paid out 1.5bn euros.

“It’s a bit early to talk about the bonuses for 2020, but we are definitely thinking along the lines of showing solidarity,” Credit Suisse’s Mr Gottstein said in the interview.

Broad-brushed bonus cuts could hit vulnerable staff, Stephan Szukalski, a representative for the German labor union DBV, said in an email.

“We oppose a general bonus cut because the bonus pool doesn’t only include staff with very high salaries,” said Mr Szukalski, who also sits on Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board. “Many medium- to low-income earners - of which there are many in Deutsche Bank - have made a contribution over the past years through the previous cuts.”

Updated: March 31, 2020 08:06 PM

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