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Cypriot banks on track for reaching their MREL targets, SRB chair says - Dominique Laboureix interview in CBN


Cypriot banks are on track to meeting their MREL targets, set by the Single Resolution Board (SRB) even well before their deadline, SRB chair Dominique Laboureix has told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).

MREL, the Minimum Requirement for own funds and Eligible Liabilities, is a tool that increases the bank’s loss absorption capacity and its resolvability in a time of crisis. Apart from the own capital, banks need to issue instruments such as subordinated bonds or non-preferred stock, that would act as a buffer to absorb losses during a crisis, without resorting to tax payer money. SRB sets MREL target for each banking institution under its remit. Cyprus has two banks under the remit of the SRB, Bank of Cyprus and Hellenic Bank.

In an interview with CNA, on the occasion of his visit to Cyprus, Domique Laboureix said Cypriot banks have a longer transition period in reaching their targets compared to their European peers.

“But what I can tell you is that they are on track for meeting the target very soon, even before the end of the transition period. So, all good for the Cyprus banks, they will be on time on their targets for MREL,” he said.

In 2013 – before the inception of the SRB – Cyprus was hit by a severe financial crisis and was bailed out by its international creditors (the IMF, the EC and the ESM). The bailout of the Cyprus economy encompasses the restructuring of the banking sector which featured the controversial “bail-in tool,” the conversion of 47.5% deposits over €100,000 to equity to recapitalize Bank of Cyprus, the island’s largest lender, whereas the largest part of Laiki Bank, the then second largest credit institution, was folded into Bank of Cyprus, while its residual part was eventually placed into liquidation.

“The idea of resolution is to replace liquidation by a more efficient treatment. Under resolution instead of asking for taxpayers to pay for the bill of the failure of the banks, like in the past, or to some creditors like in Cyprus 10 years ago, perhaps a better solution is to ask the banks to build their own resilience by issuing equity and bond instruments,” Laboureix said.

Risks are evolving, no complacency


With regard to the progress made by the SRB and the National Resolution Authorities which together with the SRB form the Single Resolution Mechanism, Laboureix said the Board has made “tremendous progress but the journey isn’t over.”

“I think we cannot consider that the journey is already finished because the risks are evolving themselves,” Laboureix noted, adding that when the SRB was born in 2015 nobody could imagine the COVID-19 crisis, the gilt crisis in the UK, the emergence of geopolitical risks such as the Russian invasion in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis in Europe, the conflict in Gaza and turmoil in free shipping in the Red Sea.

“So the level of uncertainty is growing, and risks themselves in the banking sector are evolving,” the SRB Chair continued, citing new challenges, stemming from digitalisation, including cyber risks, challenges associated with climate transition, as well as the crisis that erupted in US mid-sized banks such as the runs on deposits in Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and the crisis of Credit Suisse.

Although the EU banks have raised the absorption capacity, and the SRB has now €78 billion in a Single Resolution Fund, Laboureix said the situation is “much better than then about 10 years ago but as I said, the journey is not entirely finished.”

He added that the SRB strategy is driven by two considerations, to address new risks and operationalising its powers, requesting the necessary data from banks that would streamline the SRB’s actions in a potential crisis.

“And if they are not able to produce this data, we will not be able to act swiftly and quickly. So that's why it's so important to shift from building the MREL, the loss absorbing capacity, to operationalising our capacities to use this money in case of any crisis,” he added.

Is too-big-to fail over?


Asked whether the notion “too-big-to fail”, meaning that a bank should be bailed out with taxpayer money, is over, the SRB Chair said that “normally speaking we should find other solutions thanks to the toolkit we have,” adding that this toolkit could be further improved with the adoption of the European Commission’s proposal over the Crisis Management and Deposit Insurance, as well as the European Banking Union’s third pillar, the European Deposit Insurance Scheme, which would “give more resilience and more capacity to manage the future crisis cases.”

But he noted the absence of EDIS should not be “overplayed” as the SRB has already taken two decisions in the absence of EDIS, in the cases of Spanish Banco Popular in 2017 and Sberbank in 2022.

Asked about the acquisition of Hellenic Bank, Cyprus’ second largest lender, from Greek Eurobank, Laboureix, without commenting on the individual case, said that in case of cross-border cases the SRB needs “to adapt our resolvability processes with the future new group.”

So far Eurobank has acquired 55.3% of Hellenic Bank’s share capital with the deal subject to regulatory approvals. After the green light by the regulator, Eurobank under Cypriot law should submit a public offer for the acquisition of the remaining share capital.

“We have already asked the Supervisor because we are working very well with the SSM to take into account this dimension, that is to say, this change of point of entry in case of a crisis. But the goal is exactly the same. We are not to decide on the banking groups’ strategy, we are following the consequences of their decisions from a resolution perspective,” he said.

Asked whether Hellenic will be called on to issue its own MREL instruments (multi point of entry) or these instruments will be issued by the parent company (single point), the SRB Chair said this will depend on the group’s strategy. “And if we need to adapt our own strategy, we will do it while having the same goals in mind, preserving financial stability at no taxpayer cost,” Laboureix concluded.

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