Bankers say big is beautiful, safe and economic

Thu Jan 22, 2015 4:40pm EST
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By Alexander Smith

DAVOS (Reuters) - Europe's bankers defended the big bank model this week in Davos as the mounting cost of regulation puts a question mark over its future.

Big complex banks must now hold far more capital than in the past because they are seen as posing higher economic risks and they have to be easier to dismantle if they hit trouble. That has hurt their profitability and held back share prices.

JPMorgan (JPM.N: Quote), the biggest U.S. bank by assets, has faced growing pressure to consider a break-up, and similar questions are being put to less profitable European rivals such as Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE: Quote), Barclays (BARC.L: Quote) and Credit Suisse CSGN.VX.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon last week said splitting his bank would be bad for the financial prestige of the United States, and he won support from his peers at this week's World Economic Forum in Davos.

"Is there a better model? Those of us who are large have always faced questions." said Douglas Flint, chairman of HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote), Europe's biggest bank by market value. "If we were asked the same question (as JPMorgan on breaking up) we would give the same answer."

Pressure has built on JPMorgan since it emerged in December that it could require more than $20 billion of extra capital to meet tougher U.S. rules on big banks.

Banks around the globe are having to consider radical ways to cut costs and change their size and shape as they come out of the worst year since 2008 for investment banking revenues and remain under what Dimon called an "assault" from regulators.

In Europe, banks have still not returned to economic profit since the financial crisis, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group.   Continued...

The Canary Wharf financial district is seen at dusk in east London November 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Toby Melville