European Banks Feel The Urge To Merge

The long-awaited consolidation of banks in Europe’s fragmented banking market has finally begun.

Banks across Europe—weakened by negative interest rates and facing a wave of defaults by their customers in the year ahead, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic—are suddenly rushing to merge with rivals to create economies of scale and cut costs.

The European Central Bank, which oversees the biggest eurozone banks, gave the green light to such mergers in late July, when it issued a draft guide on how it would treat some of the issues that commonly arise in bank M&A deals. The long-awaited consolidation of banks in Europe’s fragmented banking market has finally begun.

In Spain, CaixaBank and Bankia agreed to merge last month, creating the country’s biggest lender, with €650 billion ($758 billion) in assets and 20 million customers. “The merger will allow us to face the challenges of the next ten years with greater scale, financial strength and profitability,” said CaixaBank CEO Gonzalo Gortazar.

In Italy, Intesa Sanpaolo in late July secured the two-thirds majority needed to acquire UBI Banca, in one of Europe’s biggest banking mergers in a decade. Carlo Messina, CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo, said his was the first bank in Europe to launch a new consolidation phase that will strengthen the continent’s banking sector.

Messina said in a statement that the development of an inclusive and sustainable growth model becomes more pressing at a time when social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Together we are building a new institution that will strengthen the Italian financial system and lead in the European banking landscape,” he added.

In Switzerland, UBS chairman Alex Weber told the bank’s annual strategy meeting last month that he would like to do a megamerger with Credit Suisse, although no formal talks have been held. Both banks are active in global wealth management. Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas were also mentioned as potential merger partners for UBS.