Government hopes for foreign bank investment
The minister says there is still some uncertainty as to whether overseas banks will be interested, but adds that there was overseas interest earlier this year when Arion Bank was registered on the stock exchange. He says there is cross-political support in Alþingi for the State to sell all or part of Íslandsbanki overseas.
“ISFI (Icelandic State Financial Investments) was created to be temporary; just for five years, they said, when the State took over Landsbankinn. Since then, we’ve also taken ownership of Íslandsbanki.”
The White Book recommends that the State sells Íslandsbanki, in whole or in part, and for it to prepare for the listing and sale of its remaining share in Landsbankinn. Bjarni told reporters he feels the required agreement and political will is now in place to begin such work.
“We saw for the first time this year that there was interest from foreign entities to invest in an Icelandic financial company when Arion Bank was listed. And what was really remarkable in that case was that it was even possible to list an Icelandic bank overseas,” Bjarni says.
Such developments would have been unthinkable in the years following the 2008 banking crash.
Presumably with that in mind, Bjarni says he likes the idea of imposing legal limits on the scope of the banks’ investment activities. “This is based in work that was started last year. I like the conclusions that the committee has made. They take a middle road and say that as long as investment banking operations are limited then they can be under the same roof, but as soon as they grow in scale, people have to move them into a separate company.”
Bjarni told RÚV that the White Book will be made available to the public online, and discussed in Alþingi.
If Íslandsbanki were owned by a foreign bank, it would support competition in the Icelandic banking sector and would prevent cross ownership, whereby the three big banks risk being directly or indirectly owned by the same core of major Icelandic investors.