Banking in Belgium is an influential sector. In any case, you will have no trouble finding a sofa. Belgium claims to have the most bank branches per capita in the world. Due to the country’s multilingual culture, many banks offer their services in Dutch, French and German, which can make account opening easier for strangers. Because banks are also active internationally, the service is also available in English. This is how Belgians arrange their banking affairs.
- Major banks in Belgium
- Banks in Belgium and financial scandals
- Belgium gave up banking secrecy
- Opening hours
- Electronic banking
- Increase in online banking
- Current account costs
- Bank statements
- Borrow money in Belgium
- How sustainable are banks in Belgium?
Major banks in Belgium
Traditionally, there have always been three major banks in Belgium, which have partly changed their names as a result of takeovers and mergers. In 2020 there are 4 major banks:
- ING bank;
- BNP Parisbas Fortis;
- Belfius, formerly Dexia bank
In addition to the usual banking management, various insurance policies and the option of asset management, ING Bank offers various banking cards, from savings cards to debit cards and credit cards
BNP Paribas Fortis
With around 800 branches throughout Belgium, BNP, headquartered in Brussels, is one of the largest banks in Belgium. Moreover, it is also represented in more than 80 other countries worldwide.
KBC Brussels Bank is the second largest bank in Belgium and also offers you all important services and accounts for singles and families, in approximately 60 branches.
Belfius bank was called Dexia Bank until March 1, 2012. It is a Belgian bancassurance group with headquarters in Brussels. Belfius, which mainly focuses on the local market, owes its origins to the dismantling of the Dexia group. Belfius’ main activities concern lending to governments, offering financial services to private individuals and companies, as well as insurance. Belgian bank account numbers are standardized, the first digits refer to the bank and branch where the account belongs.
Banks in Belgium and financial scandals
And unfortunately, Belgian banks have not been immune from financial scandals in recent years (just think of Fortis). And the Belgian-French bank Dexia also made headlines (and negatively) in October 2011. After this bank was kept afloat with government support in 2008, problems arose again in the autumn of 2011 after the rating agency Moody’s threatened to lower the bank’s credit rating. Dexia bank has a lot of Greek bonds in its portfolio for a bank of its size.
Belgium gave up banking secrecy
Since 2010, Belgium has participated in the exchange of information on interest income between EU member states and thus gave up its banking secrecy. Belgium wanted to escape the OECD’s “blacklist” of tax havens. The country is therefore taking a more active stance in the fight against cross-border tax evasion within the EU.
Most banks are open Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM or until 4:30 PM. Some are also open on Saturdays. However, many smaller branches close for an hour at lunchtime (usually from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM). In the past, people could only go to their bank between 9 and 5 to take out a loan or place an investment, but with the advent of new media, banking services are now available continuously, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. ‘Do it yourself’ is the slogan, at the time and place that suits you best.
The banks in Belgium have long ago discovered the possibilities of electronic banking. Nowadays there are few transactions that cannot be carried out at an ATM or via the Internet. The banks offer a very wide range of services: deposit transactions, private money transactions, investing, insurance, consumer loans and mortgage loans. Most major banks have websites on which they publish detailed information about the services they offer, such as internet banking. If desired, you can download the necessary application forms.
Increase in online banking
Although online banking is expanding more and more, it is advisable if you live in the country to have at least a current account there (compte à vue/ current account ). Foreign transfers can be expensive and complicated, even if all amounts are in euros. The importance of online banking, whether through the bank’s own software or via the Internet, is increasing in importance everywhere, but the “real” E-banks (banks that traded exclusively online, where you could open an account from home and contact your banker never actually saw) were first created in Belgium. Some online banks offer a full range of savings and loan services. The relevant application forms can simply be downloaded.
Current account costs
A current account in Belgium is generally more expensive than, for example, in Great Britain or the US, but cheaper than in Italy or France. You can get a standard current account for 50 to 100 euros per year, which includes a debit and credit card, as well as the use of ATMs and internet banking. You will be charged for all transactions and services you use. In addition, you must pay for each transfer. However, you can avoid these costs if you pay a (very small) monthly fee on your average balance, but only if that balance is positive. Most banks offer a variety of combination packages using different cards, access to internet banking and a certain number of transactions at the ATMs. At some banks, the holder of a current account is also insured against death or permanent disability as a result of an accident. And all for a small annual fee.
Depending on your contract, you can receive your bank statements by email at regular intervals (daily, monthly, quarterly or annually) or you can collect them at your branch (this way you avoid having to pay transmission or shipping costs). You can also print the bank statements at the ATM or on your computer at home and pay no fees at all. Bank charges are normally debited directly from your account, either quarterly or at the end of the year.
Borrow money in Belgium
In Belgium, it is important to obtain a loan that one is not registered on the National Bank’s blacklist, a registration that is comparable to that of the Dutch Credit Registration Bureau (BKR). Every loan application is therefore checked against that blacklist. The National Bank records on this blacklist all loans and mortgages taken out by private individuals for private purposes. And anyone who has been in default on their payments for more than 3 months is registered as a defaulter by the National Bank. Only with a mini loan from Ferratum is an entry on the National Bank’s blacklist no objection.
How sustainable are banks in Belgium?
The major banks in Belgium, especially BNP Paribas, do not see traditional banking as their core task. Lending to private individuals and companies, activities that promote the growth of the real economy, do not prevail. There is no secrecy about this either. People themselves indicate that trading is the most important activity, i.e. the rapid purchase and sale of (speculative) financial products. That can turn out well, but if things go wrong, society will have to pay for the risks.