July 16, 2018 / 7:59 AM / a month ago

ECB looking for new bank supervisor chief

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The European Central Bank has advertised for a new bank supervisory chief, looking for an expert to oversee a sector still weighed down by bad loans and weak profitability following the bloc’s debt crisis.

The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Frankfurt skyline with its financial district are photographed on early evening in Frankfurt, Germany, March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The job ad published on the ECB website on Monday formally launches the process to replace France’s Daniele Nouy, whose five-year term ends on Dec. 31.

Nouy, in the role since 2014, set up the Single Supervisory Mechanism from scratch but struggled at times to push through proposals to clean up the sector in the face of intense lobbying from southern European nations, particularly Italy.

While no candidate has formally expressed interest, media reports have mentioned European Banking Authority Chair Andrea Enria, ECB supervisor Ignazio Angeloni, Central Bank of Ireland Deputy Governor Sharon Donnery and former Dutch supervisor Jan Sijbrand among potential candidates.

Indeed three senior Italian banking sources said they expected Enria, 57, to apply, with one of them seeing him as the “perfect choice”.

Although it is up to individuals to apply, no candidate is likely to succeed without their home government’s approval and a direct lobbying effort among euro zone members.

While Germany could also field a qualified candidate, it is unlikely to do so as that would probably rule out Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann from the race to replace ECB chief Mario Draghi next year, since two Germans heading the ECB’s two distinct arms would be politically contentious.

But Enria, who did not reply to a request for comment, could also face a similar problem as he would overlap with fellow Italian Draghi for almost a year.

The ECB may also come under pressure to find a woman for the job as only two of its 25 Governing Council members are female. The European Parliament has pressed EU nations for years to pick more women for top ECB jobs, something they failed to do when they selected Luis de Guindos as vice president earlier this year.

In 2017, Nouy’s basic salary was 283,488 euros ($331,000), the same as that of regular ECB board members.

The new supervision chief will have to oversee 118 of the euro zone’s biggest lenders with around 21 trillion euros in assets and a still large pool of non-performing loans (NPLs) left from the bloc’s debt crisis, which nearly ripped the currency union apart.

Indeed, Nouy has struggled to tackle the problem of soured debt as banks in Italy have pushed back against plans for aggressive action to sell bad loans or build provisions.

Salvaging a compromise after months of delay, the ECB last week published new guidelines which spelled out that banks with a bigger stock of NPLs would be given more time and no uniform provisioning rules would be imposed.

Bank are also struggling with weak profitability with the sector earning a return on equity of just 6 percent in the last quarter of 2017, with many not even earning the cost of their equity.

Still, lenders have built massive capital buffers, suggesting that they already have adequate reserves to withstand an economic downturn.

An ECB committee will draw up a shortlist of candidates from the applicants and will make a final proposal to the EU Council in the autumn after consultation with the European Parliament and the Council, among others. Candidates must apply by Aug. 24.

Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Stefano Bernabei; Editing by Robin Pomeroy/Keith Weir/Susan Fenton

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