The upheaval spawned by COVID-19 has forced governments’ hands to wield counter-offensive measures, and one popular weapon has been fiscal stimulus. Although not everyone supports massive government spending as a tool for protecting and reviving economies hard hit by crisis, history confirms its successes and provides hope for recovery.
European Central Bank (ECB)
One pleasant surprise of the pandemic has been the shortage of business bankruptcies, despite recurrent lockdowns that have drained their incomes. But is this rosy picture a cruel illusion to be removed as governments stop propping up small companies? Banks will soon find out if government life support has simply delayed the inevitable.
The introduction of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) is taking concrete shape in more and more countries economic and currency areas. The European Central Bank (ECB) is currently evaluating the specifications of a digital Euro, Sweden recently extended the test phase for its own CBDC and in China,
Energy prices are leading a steep inflation climb not seen in the eurozone since pre-pandemic times. As the ECB has framed its monetary policy around boosting inflation, which sat at -0.3 percent at the end of 2020, will the bank implement a monetary-tightening policy now that it has achieved its target or wait to see if this trend lasts?
Mazars’ study on sustainable finance surveying 37 banks in North and South America, Asia and Europe indicates that progress is being made, especially in the UK and France, toward reaching ESG targets. Although improvement is still required in specific areas, banks and various agencies are joining forces to achieve sustainability goals.
Fraud inevitably produces innocent victims. With fraud continuing to rise in the financial industry, especially that tied to the skyrocketing adoption of ecommerce, regulations such as Europe’s PSD2 are being sharpened and unleashed to combat the threat. But the regulations themselves bring challenges to all concerned, from merchants and customers to banks, with uneven impacts. How can banks prepare themselves to confront fraudsters while continuing to serve honest customers seamlessly?
The Brexit referendum delivered a punch to the UK’s pound, but the currency has slowly picked itself up and gained some strength despite the pandemic, once again closing in on the US$1.40 mark in February. How well it fares over the next few months will depend on several factors—including the UK’s COVID-19 response but also the raft of unique issues that the nation will face as it evolves post-Brexit.
The pandemic has accelerated existing digitalisation trends in banking, giving banks more justification for not only closing branches but also consolidating. Many European banks struggled over the past decade to meet capital requirements introduced after the financial crisis. Consolidation through mergers and acquisitions is well underway, with the blessings of governments and regulators that view it as a means to streamline the financial sector and strengthen its profitability and resilience.
Effective monetary policy undergirds price stability, and the complex synergy of many moving parts in today’s crisis-prone world presents new challenges to innovate as traditional instruments reach their limits. The European Central Bank has responded by introducing new tools to its toolbox, chief amongst them being policy rates, quantitative easing and targeted longer-term refinancing operations, which have pushed the boundaries, but the interaction between the policy instruments could be unpredictable.
As calamitous as the pandemic’s effect has been on economies worldwide, in many cases, it has only fueled concerning issues that pre-dated it. COVID-19 will eventually be consigned to our past, but its effects will linger on for decades. What are the four questions we need to ask ourselves now to shape the best plan of action toward economic healing, sustained recovery, innovation, cooperation and prosperity while avoiding potential landmines?