June 11, 2020 / 5:23 PM / 2 months ago

Italy's competition watchdog probes top banks over debt support measures

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s antitrust regulator said it was probing four financial firms, including the country’s top two banks, for allegedly withholding information and imposing unnecessary conditions on borrowers who wanted to access coronavirus support measures.

The regulator said UniCredit (CRDI.MI), Intesa Sanpaolo (ISP.MI), Banca Sella and consumer credit group Findomestic were suspected of making it harder for businesses and households wanting to access state measures to help them through the pandemic crisis.

In a statement on Thursday, the regulator also said the banks may have failed to provide clear information regarding the eventual increase in interest payments stemming from payment suspensions under debt holiday schemes.

The authority said it was exercising “moral suasion” towards another 12 financial institutions - including state-owned bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) and rivals UBI Banca (UBI.MI) and Banco Popolare (BAMI.MI) - after finding similar shortfalls in the information provided to customers about the timing and cost of the loans.

Reuters was unable to contact Banca Sella and Findomestic and the other banks were not immediately available for comment.

Italian banks have come under fire for delays in granting state-backed loans under liquidity schemes which the government had said could unlock at least 400 billion euros in new financing.

Paolo Angelini, head of supervision at the Bank of Italy, told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday that the central bank had written to a group banks to check why they lagged behind the industry median in meeting requests for state-backed loans.

Angelini said the situation had improved after a slow start and, by the end of May, 61% of requests for fully-guaranteed loans for small firms had been met compared with just 33% two weeks earlier.

He said loans to non-financial companies had increased by 22 billion euros between March and April, compared with 27 billion in Germany, 59 billion in France and 35 billion in Spain.

Reporting by Valentina Za, editing by Giulia Segreti, Kirsten Donovan

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