Japan’s banks can’t blame BOJ for their problems, new head of lobby says

March 31, 2019

By Junko Fujita and Taro Fuse

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese lenders should not blame the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy for their inability to boost trading revenue or for poor returns borne of lax risk management, the newly appointed head of the country’s banking lobby said.

Makoto Takashima said banks should instead be responsible for their own risk appetite and investment strategy, wading into a long-brewing debate about the impact of ultra-low interest rates on commercial lenders.

Japanese banks have complained about the central bank’s ultra-loose policy, which they say has diminished returns from traditional lending and hurt their bottom line. Banks, particularly smaller, regional lenders, have also been squeezed by a declining population.

“I don’t think it’s quite right for banks to blame monetary policy for their changing risk appetite, or poor investment performance as a result of loosening their risk control,” Takashima said in an interview with Reuters.

“Each bank should be responsible for their risk appetite to respond to their customer needs and boost revenue,” he said.

Takashima also heads the main unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc, Japan’s third-largest lender by assets. He takes over as chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association from Monday.

His comments appear to be something of a departure from those of his predecessor, Koji Fujiwara, who had urged the BOJ to review its 2 percent inflation target and ultra-loose monetary policy – in what had been some of the strongest comments to date from the banking lobby.

Separately, Isao Kubota, the chairman of Nishi-Nippon City Bank in southern Japan recently told Reuters that the central bank’s stimulus program is hurting profits so badly that even mergers among regional banks could not be a solution.

Although Takashima said he agreed with much of his predecessor’s comments, he stressed that banks themselves were responsible to execute their businesses under the central bank’s monetary policy.

Still, the industry faces some headwinds: the ultra-loose monetary policy is expected to continue, while banks are under pressure to restructure their retail businesses as the population continues to shrink and as more customers change how they conduct financial transactions.

Mizuho Financial Group, Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, last month slashed its full-year profit outlook by 86 percent, citing costs to close retail branches at home and restructuring of its securities portfolio of foreign bonds.

(Editing by David Dolan and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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