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Opinion

How can banks balance stakeholders and Covid-19?

For European banks, the tensions between communities, supervisors and shareholders needs careful navigation.

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For banks, the potential conflict between local community loyalty and the interests of both prudential supervisors and international investors is not new. But, especially in Europe, the coronavirus crisis is making it an urgent question once again. 

Banks need to protect their capital. At the same time, in this emergency, they must do all they can to support clients whose repayment capacity they know. And they will want to contribute to the humanitarian effort

However, the question is whether or not it is their role to prop up small businesses whose creditworthiness is hard to fathom, anymore than it is to intervene directly in public health systems.

This has been less of an issue for German and Swiss banks during the coronavirus crisis because their states moved early to guarantee 100% of small business loans – and because their public health systems are less stressed. 

Philanthropy

Elsewhere in continental Europe, by contrast, banks have competed to pledge liquidity to businesses at their own risk and to make big donations to health services and charities.

This is not a case of wealthy chief executives throwing banknotes out of their limousine windows.

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