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The Malta Bankers Association has responded to a scathing critique of local banking services by Chamber of SMEs CEO Abigail Agius Mamo, decrying suggestions of anti-competitive behaviour and pointing to increasing regulatory burdens, including those arising out of Malta’s greylisting as a financial jurisdiction, as the reason behind the “reinforcement of banks’ prudential approaches”.

Last Sunday, Ms Agius Mamo reiterated the small- to medium-sized business lobby’s stance on Malta’s banks and listed a number of criticisms into banks’ operations.

She said that “the trend is clear. Banks are reducing their services and raising fees. It’s a mess. There’s no interest or any kind of intent to see how users will experience changes. There’s no consultation to see whether the wholesale shift to digital banking can be effected by users who have not yet migrated online.”

She added that branches are meanwhile being closed left and right, and noted that long queues outside banks “have become a common sight”.

“The service has become ridiculous while fees continue to increase. It’s rubbish,” opined Ms Agius Mamo, arguing that a lack of active competition in the sector is “essentially giving banks a carte blanche to do whatever they want, without consultation or any care for their clients”.

Asked to respond by, the Malta Bankers Association (MBA) has hit back at the claims, stating that most issues are a result of increased regulatory burdens, partly emanting from the problems Malta is facing in convincing the international community that it is a stable and trustworthy partner.

“Maltese banks all operate independently and set their own risk appetite, strategies and operating models,” said the MBA. “These are naturally driven also by regulatory requirements which have been increasing exponentially over recent years while Malta’s greylisting has contributed to further reinforce banks’ prudential approaches.”

The lobby group also dismissed any suggestion of anti-competitive behaviour.

“Within these constraints,” the MBA continued, “a healthy degree of competition exists in most sectors and the members of the MBA strongly refute suggestions to the contrary.”

It nonetheless acknowledged that some economic sectors may be underserved, noting that there can be areas where appetite to accommodate banking requirements may be consistently low amongst banks.

“Certain sectors present higher risks to banks,” it said, “and the costs to operate accounts can be prohibitive.”

Asked to comment on the SME Chamber’s appeal for more competition in banking, the MBA said that it has been working with several other local agencies to consider ways in which higher risk sectors can be more easily accommodated.

About the Malta Bankers Association

The Malta Bankers Association is a body representing 21 banks operating in Malta.

It has a remit to identify matters of common interest to its members and implement the relative solution, develop and maintain harmony in policies on issues of common interest, and to lobby and negotiate with the authorities and other bodies, among other objectives. It also strives to enhance the public image of the banking industry in Malta.

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