Europe News

ECB went 'too far': ING Group CEO

Written by Jessica Hartogs; reporting by Nancy Hulgrave

ING Group CEO Ralph Hamers told CNBC Wednesday that the European Central Bank (ECB) went "one step too far" in cutting its main interest rates in March.

"Now we get into such a low-interest rate environment, if not a negative-rate environment, where our consumers basically start to worry rather than start to spend more," said Hamers, to CNBC from the Money 2020 fintech event in Copenhagen.

The ECB announced last month a cut to its main refinancing rate to 0.0 percent and its deposit rate to -0.4 percent, due to a lowering of its growth and inflation outlook. Rather than the 1.7 percent forecast in December, the ECB predicted average growth of 1.4 percent in 2016 for the euro zone's 19 countries.

European flags flutter in front of the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany
Daniel Roland | AFP | Getty Images

"We actually think that the psychology works in reverse where you save more because you are afraid of what the future brings for you... Not necessarily [saving] with the banks, maybe you will herd cash but it will actually take money out of the economy," said Hamers.

He added that the low-interest rate environment influences banks' profitability, meaning that banks may not have sufficient capital to grow their balance sheets and actually "give [out] the loans that the market needs."

The Dutch boss said that although the banking and financial services group won't, as a balance-sheet lender, directly benefit from the measures the ECB took to improve the corporate market, "we're certainly benefitting from it in order to help corporates access the markets and access the cheaper funding, that's for sure."

Hamers also believes that the ECB's latest move "is not a sustainable move; sustainability of turning the economy around and the health around can only come from structural reforms from the countries in Europe."

Following the financial sector's rough start to the year, Hamers shared his outlook for the rest of the year:

"If you look at the headwinds that banks are coping with, one of those is remnants of the financial crisis, the low if not negative rates, pressure on margins, regulatory costs – the development that we see now with digital and the fintechs first is actually supporting the development," he said.

"We know what it can bring. We know what it can do in order to improve customer services and we know what it can do to our cost base."