Germany’s second-largest lender Commerzbank on Thursday said it was mulling charging wealthy private customers for their deposits, as it seeks to pass on the hurt from the European Central Bank’s negative interest rates.
Commerzbank’s finance chief Stephan Engels said the lender was considering transferring the charges to some retail clients in cases where it could be “necessary, sensible and justified to do so”.
“We are in completely new territory,” he told reporters in a conference call.
But Engels cautioned that any such move was only being studied for customers with balances of over “a million euros”, stressing that the discussion was “far away” from targeting clients with savings of up to 100,000 euros.
Like all eurozone banks, Commerzbank is smarting from the ECB’s record-low interest rates which aim to encourage spending and investment, but have also badly dented banks’ profits.
Adding to their woes, the ECB in September pushed the deposit rate deeper into negative territory, from -0.4 percent to -0.5 percent.
That means the ECB now charges lenders more than ever before for parking their excess cash with the central bank, although it also introduced exemptions to ease the burden on some banks.
Commerzbank, in which the German government took a 15-percent stake during the financial crisis, was one of the first German lenders to start charging corporate clients for keeping their deposits.
Other banks are also looking for ways to share the penalty.
Switzerland’s largest bank UBS announced in July that it would start charging a rate of -0.75 percent for deposits of more than two million Swiss francs (1.8 million euros).
Rival Credit Suisse unveiled similar plans last month that would apply to institutional and private clients.
Commerzbank on Thursday reported a net profit of 294 million euros in the third quarter of 2019, up 35 percent year-on-year and in line with preliminary results announced in October.
But the group expects net profit for the year to fall below 2018’s level as it grapples with the ECB’s ultra-low interest rates, higher tax rates and “worsening global trade conflicts”.
Last year, Commerzbank booked a net profit of 865 million euros.
The bank, which has struggled for several years, is in the process of cutting 2,300 jobs from a global workforce of 38,000, as it refocuses its business in Germany.