Interview by: J. de Antonio | Photograph: David Jar

"The tax on banks clashes with constitutional principles"

There is no doubt that banking is constantly changing, that financial uncertainty never stops and that banks still don't know how to communicate their value to society. Alberto Aza, the spokesman for the industry association that represents the former savings banks, defends private companies and their profits, and is certain that the "mega-tax" is unconstitutional, inconsistent and distorts the market.

With the latest financial turmoil, are there fears of a new banking crisis like the one from 2008?

The sources of instability we have seen in the US and Credit Suisse can't be extrapolated to all other European banks, and much less to Spanish banks, which are subject to the extraordinary regulation of the ECB. Our banks are creditworthy, they have no liquidity problems, they have boosted their profitability and they are prepared to deal with this type of turbulence with peace of mind.

Should companies with large profits pitch in the way the Government is asking them to in times of crisis?

I would answer the Government with other questions: Don't you think that Spanish banks are pitching in by paying the highest taxes of any European banks? Don't you think we're pitching in when last year's tax contribution was 50%, meaning we paid 50 euros for every 100 in profit? Do they know that CECA banks have been supporting the most vulnerable families through their Social Work for 200 years, and that we are the largest private investor in society? Don't they think we pitched in during the pandemic when we implemented the largest financial plan in the history of Spanish banking? Or when we launched the first action plan to bridge the digital divide with seniors? Or when we launched a roadmap to provide financial services in most Spanish municipalities? I could go on, but I'm afraid we wouldn't have room in this interview.

Do you think the Government has launched a smear campaign against bank executives, accusing them of getting rich off the crisis?

Dialogue with the Government is constant and fluid, but it's true that the banking tax has created somewhat of a rift.

So is the extraordinary tax on banks an attack or a mistake?

We are completely against this tax because it's unfair, it is a clear violation of constitutional principles and Community law. It is also a counterproductive tax, because it will cause the GDP to shrink and destroy jobs, as many as 70,000 according to various studies. And the tax is incongruous because instead of taxing profits, which is what it supposedly does, it taxes income without taking into account operating expenses, meaning it's not proportional to the profits of the banks. And finally, it is a distortionary tax because it doesn't exist in any other country in Europe, and thus it imposes a tax and competitive disadvantage on Spanish banks.

Why do you think they're singling banks out as if they were the bad guys in the movie?

There is a tendency in our country's collective imagination to criticize the profits of large corporations, and especially of banks, which is really quite paradoxical because in other countries it's a source of pride and here it's stigmatized.

Will one direct consequence be a restriction on capital and credit flows?

Yes. The tax will cause lower growth through reduced lending.

And will rate increases also affect lending?

Since late last year we have seen a reduction in lending because the rate increases have been transferred to the Euribor, resulting in increased borrowing costs, and customers have chosen not to borrow.

The public feel that this increase only benefits banks, which are raising rates on mortgages but not paying interest on deposits. Are they right?

There are two angles here. It is true that it benefits banks by improving the net interest margin, but it also entails a higher financing cost for banks. It also lowers the demand for credit and could cause a rise in defaults, factors that will harm the banking business. We will have to wait until the end of the year to see how it plays out.