In the financial world, the government is and remains a regulator. It has been particularly active in recent years on ESG and on the protection of citizens. That is how, Vincent Van Peteghem, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in charge of coordinating the fight against fraud and CEO of the National Lottery, sees the sector.

Keeping the financial sector healthy is a permanent balancing act. That’s how it was in 2000, that’s how it is today in 2030 and how it will continue to be in the future. There are the interests of banks, the interests of citizens and the interests of governments and other organizations at play. 

Even the concerns of governments and other organizations are not always aligned. For example, the ECB only wants there to be very large and strong banks that can compete with U.S. banks. But that is sometimes at odds with local markets and regulations. It’s the diversity of having local and large banks that is the real strength of our financial sector. It is most important that banks continue to offer the finance that companies and clients need. 

Vincent Van Peteghem

Vincent Van Peteghem

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance BE Government

The British economist Mervyn King once said that banks are global in life and national in death. When they are strong everybody wants to be part of them, but when they are in danger, everybody looks at the local government to save them. 

We now have a European banking union, but it is clear that it has not solved all the problems or worked out how to maintain the delicate balancing acts. The task is and remains converging the diversity between member states. Only then can you solve the complexity of the banking sector. That also explains why there are not exclusively large European banks today.

Consumer protection

As a government, our task has not changed. The core task remains consumer protection. In the case of the financial sector, this means providing a framework within which banks can operate. This creates a permanent field of tension with the banking sector. After all, it sometimes sees itself hin-dered by the government framework. But the banks also have a role to play. It is a question of what their mission package is, what risks they have to protect.

Is it correct that banks are responsible for following KYC (know your customer) standards and anti-money laundering disclosures? Yes, because the banking and insurance sector is not a sector like any other. It adds value to the economy through financing and insurance. That gives it a special place in the ecosystem, making it well positioned to gather this kind of information. 

ESG qualifier, not a winner

By setting the framework, the government can be very directive, and we have seen that in recent years on ESG. True, the ESG framework does not yet touch every fiber of every financial institution, but the changes in recent years should not been understated. In the early 2020s, regulation in this area had quite an impact. We used the financial sector as a lever.

The banks and insurance companies certainly played a big role in this, but they were not alone. The government and citizens also made great strides. And there is also more than regulation: citizens began to demand more and more transparency and steps in this area from the various players. ESG is a qualifier, not a winner. It’s an Olympic minimum, not a way to differentiate you from others.

By the way, it is thanks to our directive in 2022 and the fact that we required every shop, every café and every liberal profession to start using a digital payment method, that we were able to eliminate the use of cash.

In taking action on ESG, we used the financial sector as a lever.

Belgian players have adapted

It is clear that the financial sector has changed significantly over the past decade, but it has always happened in small steps. Those small steps have also allowed Belgian banks to adapt to the chang-ing landscape. They have adapted to PSD2, which was a solid challenge for certain players. They have adapted to the changing expectations of customers, who expect more proactivity and a more automatic response to their needs. And they have adapted to the rise of fintech.

Belgium as a financial center

The question is whether Belgium is a financial center today. Brussels is still the European capital, it is a logistics center and life is good here. Our country is also attractive on the financial market, and we absolutely must keep it that way.

This means helping our local companies grow in abundance: through our focus on innovation and a strong start-up community. Organizations like Fintech Belgium, but also large international players that have grown here, such as SWIFT and Euroclear, help ensure this.

No CBDC yet

Finally, big tech and crypto currencies have caused a lot of discussion about the digital euro over the past decade. The European Central Bank was a big proponent of a CBDC or central bank digital currency, but meanwhile it is still not there.

About the interviewee

Vincent Van Peteghem is Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, in charge of coor-dinating the fight against fraud and the CEO of the National Lottery. He holds a master‘s degree in Management of Public Sector Organizations and first started an academic career. After a doctorate and a year as a postdoctoral researcher at UGent, Van Peteghem moved to the EDHEC Business School in Lille, where he was professor of Operations Management and later Director of Education-al Innovation.

Meanwhile, Vincent Van Peteghem also became politically active, both locally in his municipality of De Pinte, and at the federal and Flemish levels as a member of parliament. In 2020, he made the transition to the federal government.

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