Working Paper Series: Finance & Accounting No. 147
This paper starts out by pointing out the challenges and weaknesses which the German banking systems faces according to the prevailing views among national and international observers. These challenges include a general problem of profitability and, possibly as its main reason, the strong role of public banks. These concerns raise the questions whether the facts support this assessment of a general profitability problem and whether there are reasons to expect a fundamental or structural transformation of the German banking system. The paper contains four sections. The first one presents the evidence concerning the profitability problem in a comparative, international perspective. The second section presents information about the so-called three-pillar system of German banking. What might be surprising in this context is that the group of pub lic banks is not only the largest segment of the German banking system, but that the primary savings banks also are its financially most successful part. The German banking system is highly fragmented. This fact suggests to discuss past, present and possible future consolidations in the banking system in the third section. The authors provide evidence to the effect that within- group consolidation has been going on at a rapid pace in the public and the cooperative banking groups in recent years and that this development has not yet come to an end, while within-group consolid ation among the large private banks, consolidation across group boundaries at a national level and cross-border or international consolidation has so far only happened at a limited scale, and do not appear to gain momentum in the near future. In the last section, the authors develop their explanation for the fact that large-scale and cross border consolidation has so far not materialized to any great extent. Drawing on the concept of complementarity, they argue that it would be difficult to expect these kinds of mergers and acquisitions happening within a financial system which is itself surprisingly stable, or, as one cal also call it, resistant to change.