Johannesburg - South African banks
are considering pulling out of the Financial Sector Charter, City Press can
Discussions to this effect are
taking place through the Banking Association of South Africa.
City Press has reliably learned from
an industry source, privy to the discussions but not directly involved, that
the intention to leave the charter was communicated to Finance Minister Pravin
Gordhan at or around the time of the banking summit, held in August in
The banks are said to be drafting an
alternative blueprint for transformation that they are due to present to the
For any alternative to be acceptable
the banks will have to commit to doing more in areas such as skills
development, employment equity and preferential procurement than they are
committed to doing under the current charter.
The threatened walkout by the banks
appears to be over a disagreement with social partners, most notably labour and
NGOs, over ownership targets.
This disagreement has effectively
rendered the charter paralysed, with no yearly report filed to the Financial
Sector Charter Council since 2008.
Civil society wants the black
ownership targets of financial services raised from the current level of 10% to
15% by 2014. But the industry frequently argues that international banking
regulations mitigate against this.
This is because in banking ownership
shareholding above 10% confers a status known as shareholder of reference.
This means that in the event that a
bank needs to be recapitalised, as happened to some American and European banks
during the financial crisis, a shareholder of reference has to contribute
according to their shareholding.
Thus if, say, Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK] were to
go to the wall and required a R1bn bailout, the Industrial Commercial Bank of
China, as a 20% shareholder, would have to stump up R200m.
A 15% shareholder would need R150m,
the kind of sum that empowerment partners - who often have to borrow to finance
their deals in the first place – would struggle to raise. Smaller shareholders
do not face such obligations.
But labour has refused to budge on
the matter, first staging its own walkout from the charter in 2008.
It argues that the financial crisis
showed that government bears the ultimate cost of a bailout. It further argues
that the probability of a bailout being needed is low.
Banks have publicly committed to
helping drive the charter to be gazetted as an empowerment code, in line with
legislation that came into effect after the charter was adopted.
Cas Coovadia, managing director of
the Banking Association, declined to respond to the claim that the banks are
contemplating a pull-out, noting instead that “the Banking Association has been
critically involved in negotiations at the Financial Sector Charter Council for
This demonstrates our commitment to
transformation in the industry and its role in broader socioeconomic
Coovadia added that “all
constituencies represented on the Council are engaging with each other to resolve
outstanding issues in our commitment to getting a sector code gazetted”.
He said it would be inappropriate to
comment publicly on continuing discussions, before adding, “we have not
withdrawn from the negotiations”.
Standard Bank Group chief executive Sim
Tshabalala, speaking on behalf of the bank and not the association, said: “It
is not accurate that we are pulling out of the charter.”
He said negotiating parties “may
inevitably find themselves in circumstances where they agree to disagree on
matters of principle”, but pointed out he had no knowledge of such
Banking Association chairperson and
Investec [JSE:INL] chief executive Stephen Koseff did not respond to queries as
he was said to be in Australia.
FirstRand [JSE:FSR] spokesperson Sam
Moss declined to comment and referred all queries to the association. Absa
Group [JSE:ASA] and Nedbank Group [JSE:NED] had not responded to queries by
The Financial Sector Charter was
adopted in 2004 as the financial service industry’s contribution to social
It commits the industry to meeting a
range of transformation targets, some of which, like broadening access to
financial services, are uniquely applicable to the financial services.
One of the charter’s earliest
outcomes was the Mzansi account, offered by all major banks and the Post Office
to low-income earners. Banks frequently point out, as Coovadia did during the
summit, that when the charter was in force they met most of their targeted
These include R42bn in affordable
housing, R5bn for SMME funding and R15bn for empowerment funding.
But the last charter report showed
banks were struggling in areas such as employment equity.
The bank industry argues that some
targets have been rendered irrelevant by technology.
These include the need to have a
financial services access point within a 20km radius.
This so people can check balances on
their cellphones and walk to a local retailer to withdraw from the till, thus
eliminating the need for banks to build bricks-and-mortar branches.