Commercial banks are starting to take a hard look at how to avoid defaulting on their debts, and to how to cope with an uncertain environment, says the head of the UK’s biggest commercial bank.
“The banking industry has a very difficult time balancing its own needs, the needs of customers and its own interests,” said Robert Lappin, chairman of the British Bankers Association.
“If we can get a bit of clarity on the financials we have to do a lot of what we’ve done before and look to what we can do differently.”
The industry has been struggling with rising debt levels, as it struggles to get a return on its debt-backed loans, and the fallout from the financial crisis.
Bankers’ association chief economist Richard Wiles said banks have been able to reduce their debt levels to a “safe level”, but that they were still facing the challenge of maintaining profitability.
Lappin added that banks are taking more risk on the consumer side of their business, as they try to mitigate the risk of losing customers.
The BBA has been warning for some time that the UK is likely to see a “debt crisis” by the end of the decade, as debt-laden businesses such as supermarkets and restaurants struggle to make money.
It is now taking the UK in a more aggressive approach, urging banks to refinance their mortgages and borrow from commercial banks to fund their operations.
And Lappen said commercial banks were starting to consider their options, such as taking out equity stakes in their businesses, and increasing their cash reserves.
He added that commercial banks are now more willing to take risks to meet their financial obligations, while the government is not keen on that.
“The Bank of England is now going to have to make some decisions as to whether we are going to continue to be in a debt crisis,” Lapponin said.
In addition to the banks, commercial banks have also started to look at the government’s ability to pay off its debts, as the UK government has already been forced to borrow from the European Central Bank (ECB) for the first time since the financial collapse of 2008.
According to the BBA, commercial lenders are also increasingly considering the impact of the Brexit vote, which saw the UK leave the EU, and have also begun to weigh up the possibility of leaving the European Economic Area (EEA).
The UK’s financial sector has also been hit by the uncertainty caused by Brexit.
The Bank of Ireland said it would start raising interest rates to help cover its costs, and a number of other banks have begun to consider how they could cope with Brexit.
On Thursday, the BBI said it was considering how to increase the number of new customers it serves to cope more effectively with Brexit-related disruptions.
However, the report said that this could take a number to months to come to fruition, as some financial services firms will need to wait until 2018 to be able to begin opening new accounts.
Meanwhile, Lloyds Banking Group is also preparing to take action on its debts as it works through the fallout of the financial crash.
Its new chief executive, Mark Carron, has announced that it is looking at reducing its debt levels by as much as 50 per cent.
Carron said that the bank will be looking at how it can refinance its mortgage debt to avoid breaching the repayment threshold, as well as how it will cover its bills.
While the BDI’s Richard Wile said that he thought the government should make more concessions on its Brexit obligations, the industry will have to take its own advice on how to deal with Brexit in the coming months.
There will be “a number of factors that we need to look to as we look at our business and how we do business”, Lappina added.
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