The FINANCIAL -- Several global banks have begun charging large customers to deposit their money in euros, a rare move that could have costly implications for investors and companies that do business on the Continent, according to Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
The actions are driven by policies from the European Central Bank, which in June became the largest central bank to impose a negative interest rate on deposits--meaning banks are paying to park their money with the ECB. The effort is designed to encourage banks to instead use that money to lend. When the ECB dropped those rates further in September, some banks started pushing those costs--or costs related to the rate cuts--onto customers.
Now, instead of paying customers interest on their euro accounts, as they have done traditionally, some banks have started charging them. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. recently started charging 0.2% on euro deposits, the bank said Friday, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. have also started charging clients, according to people familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, Credit Suisse Group AG has told customers it will pass along negative interest rates on all currencies in which they apply, people familiar with the matter said, and has started charging on euro deposits, according to Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Many bankers and their clients say the shift is the most sweeping of its kind they can recall. The clients most immediately affected are investment firms, such as hedge funds and mutual-fund companies. Multinational corporations with sizable operations in Europe also could face additional costs, according to bankers who work with them.
Negative rates reflect in part the paralysis that threatens to plague Europe's economy. Households and businesses are so reluctant to spend or invest that banks are charging some customers merely to hold their cash. The recent moves appear to reflect a view from the banks that the negative rates are likely to persist for some time. They also could push customers with large deposits to put that money into other vehicles that are more risky, according to Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
The fees also underscore challenges institutional depositors such as hedge funds, mutual funds and corporations may face in finding a haven for their deposits. Banks have traditionally competed for institutional investors' deposits. But new banking rules force them to set aside more capital against that cash, which earns little return these days, making such deposits unattractive.
HSBC Holdings PLC will soon start charging customers with more than roughly EUR10 million ($13 million) in deposits, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move is intended to discourage a flood of deposits from institutional investors fleeing competitors that already have started levying charges on euro deposits, the person said. An HSBC spokesman said Friday the bank was "monitoring the situation" regarding negative interest rates.
Several bankers said the changing regulatory landscape has made it harder to eat the cost, as they might have in the past. In 2011, BNY Mellon disclosed a move to charge some of its U.S. depositors for holding their cash, after investors poured money into the bank to escape gyrations in the market. The bank later aborted the plan, according to Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
A BNY Mellon spokesman said the 2011 situation "resolved itself" as deposit levels shrank. "The current euro situation is much more enduring and is likely to be the norm for some time," he said.
The latest move by the banks is notable because so many of them are taking the step, giving customers fewer options for moving their money. Several people familiar with the matter said the fees could vary depending on the client and the bank.
"As we go through this period of low interest rates in the eurozone, our expectation is this is going to linger for a long time," said Peter Yi, head of short-duration fixed income at Chicago-based trust bank Northern Trust Corp. "This isn't something that's going to go away in the next year."
Mutual-fund firm Vanguard Group confirmed it is being charged for its euro balances. "That is being passed on," said Vanguard spokesman David Hoffman. "It's very recent."
He declined to say which banks are instituting the charge or detail the firm's euro cash exposure, but he said it was "very small."
The new charges are setting off a search by some clients to try to avoid or minimize fees. Investors and bankers say some clients are looking for banks that haven't yet started charging for euro deposits. Others are moving their balances into cash-like instruments such as money-market funds or repurchase agreements, also known as repos, which are short-term loans backed by collateral.
The BNY Mellon spokesman said the bank was working with clients who were looking for alternatives to cash deposits to find investment opportunities.
In an interview Friday, BNY Mellon Chief Financial Officer Todd Gibbons said the firm expects the fees to be imposed across the industry. He said 15% of BNY Mellon's deposits are euro-dominated and that he expects most of the affected clients to be "savers on the institutional side," including financial-services firms, corporations and pension funds.
The charges highlight the divergent paths central banks in the U.S. and Europe are taking. Although the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low for years, it continues to pay banks on excess deposits and has signaled it hopes to raise rates relatively soon, according to Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Relationships between banks' prime-brokerage businesses, which execute and finance trades, and their clients are already feeling strains. Some banks have started squeezing clients such as hedge funds by increasing the cost of financing and, in some cases, dropping clients that don't bring banks enough profit.
Not all big banks are following suit. Deutsche Bank AG had not started levying charges on euro deposits as of Friday, according to people familiar with the matter.
State Street Corp. said in a statement Friday it hadn't started charging on euro deposits but that it had told clients it might do so in the future. "Continued persistence or deterioration of the current rate environment may require that we take action consistent with prudent financial management," the statement said.
Anthony Carfang at Treasury Strategies, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said the prominence of the negative rates made such charges more palatable than they may have been in the past. "This looks like a pass-through," he said. "That makes it a lot more acceptable in the customer's mind."