Unlike America, where banks have a return on equity of 12%, Europe does not have strongly positive government-bond yields, or a pool of investment-banking profits like that on Wall Street, or a vast, integrated home market. All this is true, but European banks have been lamentably slow at cutting their costs, something which is well within their control. As a rough rule of thumb, efficient banks report cost-to-income ratios below 50%. Yet almost three-quarters of European lenders have ratios above 60%. Redundant property, inefficient technology and bloated executive perks are the order of the day.
And when the next downturn comes and banks need to raise capital, which investor would be foolish enough to give even more money to firms that do not regard allocating resources profitably as one of their responsibilities?
There’s much room and ability to improve the bottom line by fixing the back-office sprawl:
Costs are falling at an annual rate of about 4%, according to analysts at ubs. This is not enough. As consumers switch to banking on their phones there are big opportunities to cut legacy itspending and back-office and branch expenses. Lloyds, in Britain, has cut its cost-income ratio to 49% and expects to get to close to 40% by 2020. The digital German arm of ing, a Dutch bank, boasts a return on equity of over 20% in a country that is supposedly a bankers’ graveyard. If other banks do not do this they will soon find that they have lost market share to new digital finance and payments competitors—both fintech firms and the Silicon Valley giants such as Amazon—that can operate with a fraction of their costs and which treat customers better.
Source: Fixing Europe’s zombie banks