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Belgians continued to boost savings accounts during 2020

A customer operates a bank machine (BELGA PHOTO)
10:31 05/01/2021

Belgians remained true to their squirrelling nature in 2020 by boosting their savings accounts throughout the year, a survey of banks revealed this week. Savings accounts held by the four major banks operating in Belgium swelled as customers sought to maintain their financial security in these difficult times.

The combined balance of all regulated savings accounts at BNP Paribas Fortis, the market leader in Belgium, stood at €66.69 billion at the end of 2020, 4.91% more than a year earlier. Together, KBC and CBC recorded a total of €50.04 billion on savings accounts at the end of 2020, an increase of 9.23% on 2019 figures.

At Belfius, the savings balance increased by 8.96% to reach €45 billion at the end of last year. The increase was 3.16% on ING's savings accounts, for a year-end total of €40.52 billion euros. Belfius believes that this sharp increase in savings is due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis which dominated the year.

"Successive stay-at-home periods, involving the closure of the catering industry, shops, contact trades, amusement parks and festivals, as well as travel limitations for several months have caused a decrease in consumption, not fully compensated by online shopping," a statement from BNP Paribas Fortis said.

Savings accounts aren't the only ones that have become swelled. BNP Paribas Fortis said it also noticed a significant increase in current account deposits. This has been a trend since the interest rate was cut, with customers not seeing much reason to transfer their money to a savings account.

The National Bank of Belgium (NBB) reported in mid-December that Belgians had saved an extra €22 billion by 2020. The personal savings rate (as a percentage of disposable income) jumped from 13 to 20.7% in 2020.

The report on savings comes at a time where money is urgently needed elsewhere, such as in the business economy which is severely suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Bankruptcies across the country are rife, a situation which has led Gilles Vanden Burre, leader of the Francophone green party Ecolo in the federal government, to call on private investment to help save firms from going under.

"€290 billion currently sits in the accounts of Belgians,” he told RTL in December. “This is one of the only indicators that has increased during the coronavirus shutdown so we will have to expand mechanisms that already exist to mobilise these savings to support our businesses."

For Vanden Burre, it is not a question of launching large stock market investments but of expanding systems such as "the boost loans that exist in the Walloon region and in the Brussels region". They allow individuals to lend money to Walloon companies and independents to finance their activities. Citizens receive a tax benefit in return.

"These are systems where citizens, through their savings, can invest in local businesses," he said, before announcing the imminent arrival of €5 billion in European recovery plan funding to be "invested in projects related to the ecological transition".

Written by Nick Amies