The European Banking Authority publishes the results of its 2016 European banking transparency exercise. Its objective is to conduct a review of the health of the participating entities and provide information to the market regarding their financial situation. In last year's exercise, Spanish entities obtained results comparable to those of other European banks, despite the existence of factors that undervalue their capital ratios, such as having a higher proportion of risk-weighted assets - which make up the denominator of the solvency ratio - due to methodological problems and lack of harmonisation at EU level.
However, this does not mean that the risks have disappeared, as the low interest rate environment, in which we have been immersed for several years now, exerts severe pressure on the margins of European financial institutions. Faced with this scenario, Spanish entities have adopted a proactive attitude and have made much greater efforts than those of other neighbouring countries, supported by a sharp reduction in installed capacity and the adoption of strict cost control measures. We could say that the Spanish financial system is doing its homework, while other supposedly diligent students are dragging their feet and resisting implementing the necessary measures to tackle the new environment. Thus, Spanish entities have reduced by more than 40% the number of branches since 2008, and by almost 37% the number of employees, which contrasts with European figures, which in many cases do not reach double digits (as in the case of France and Germany). This considerable effort to streamline the network is reflected in average efficiency ratios that place our financial system at the head of the major European economies, with a ratio of 50.7% at the end of 2015, compared to 73.1% in Germany, 68.1% in France and 64.5% in Italy. Remember that this ratio reflects, as a percentage, the costs incurred to generate €100 of income and, therefore, the lower the ratio, the more efficient a financial institution is.
Significantly, there is no clear relationship between efficiency and size, with a number of medium-sized entities, including several of those associated with CECA, being among those with the highest levels of efficiency. At a time when different authorities are calling for new integration processes to be undertaken, this shows that such a strategy may be appropriate for certain entities, but it is not necessarily the only formula for success, because thanks to their specialisation - geographic or product specialisation - smaller entities can coexist with the large banking groups, and this is positive, as it contributes to the diversity and strengthens the model.
In short, our financial system has a solvent, efficient banking system that is prepared to face the challenges of the future, set within the new scenario emerging from the banking union, which gives our institutional and regulatory framework a new European dimension and represents a fundamental milestone in the construction of a true single financial market.