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European Banking Federation chief calls for rethink on regulation due to pandemic

MILAN (Reuters) - New rules affecting bank capital reserves could hurt lenders’ ability to “be part of the solution” to the coronavirus crisis and should be delayed or amended, the head of the European Banking Federation (EBF) said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Unicredit bank CEO Jean Pierre Mustier poses during the shareholders meeting in Rome, Italy, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

EBF head Jean Pierre Mustier, who is CEO of Italian bank UniCredit CRDI.MI, also called for a more unified European banking market.

“We need to minimise fragmentation to allow cross-border groups to work on an even more optimised basis in terms of free flows of liquidity and capital,” he told the Euro Finance Week conference, which was held virtually.

He said it was crucial that banks continued to be the channel through which European Central Bank (ECB) policies reached the economy.

The ECB had to find “tools to support the banks ... in an environment in which negative or very low rates are part of a permanent fixture.”

Mustier called for a temporary partial reprieve in the ‘Basel IV’ capital rules or the so-called ‘calendar provisioning’ rules forcing banks to write down impaired loans in full over a set number of years.

“We need to make sure we adjust if not postpone specific regulation meaning ... until the situation has stabilised,” he said.

Several bankers have warned of the potentially explosive combined effect of calendar provisioning, a stricter definition of default kicking in next year, and the end of governments’ support measures such as debt holidays and loan guarantees which have stemmed corporate defaults so far.

Mustier said a coordinated approach across countries to the end of such measures was necessary “in order to have a consistent way of recovering and restructuring” companies in a post-COVID world.

He also called for regulatory clarity on when banks will be allowed to pay dividends again and reiterated his opposition to mergers, which he said were “no panacea” for banks at a time when the focus should be on the digital transition and on boosting shareholder returns.

To build up scale, banks can join forces in providing specific services in a form of “synthetic” M&A, he said.

Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Susan Fenton

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