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European banking has the longest history and can be taken to be the grandfather of modern banking, with the recognition that it was the establishment of banking in Siena in the fifteenth century that started modern banking.

At that time Sienna was part of the Republic of Florence which was one of the most powerful financial centers in Italy. The bank is called Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena and in its original form was created in 1472. Today, however, European banking has fallen far behind the USA and China in most respects.

Banking in Europe ten years ago contributed nearly one third of global banking profits. By 2019  it was just under one fifth and in 2020 the figure is just 18%, compared to 43% for Asian banks and 26% for North America. Western European banks’ return on capital at 6.7% is the lowest for any region.

Of the Top 10 banks in the world ranked in terms of tier 1 capital at the beginning of 2020, HSBC is the only bank left – and it earns the bulk of its profits in Asia. Deutsche Bank fell 5 places to 32nd and it went from profit to loss. Société Générale dropped to 31st position. This year contrasts with 1980, when of the world Top 10, France’s Credit Agricole was #1, Deutsche Bank was fifth and the UK’s Barclays was ninth.

In terms of assets, three European banks make it into the top 10 in the world – HSBC, BNP Aribas and Crédit Agricole. In the next 10, Société Générale, Barclays and Groupe BPCE bring the total of 6 in the top 20. For comparison, in 1980 when Crédit Agricole was the leader it had $105 billion in assets. The highest ranked bank today, China’s ICBC, has assets of $4.3 trillion, about 40 times larger.

A list of the 50 biggest banks in Europe is:

Rank Bank Country Total Assets US$B
1 BNP Paribas France 2945.14
2 HSBC Holdings UK 2922.80
3 Crédit Agricole Group France 2470.43
4 Banco Santander Spain 1766.06
5 Barclays UK 1706.79
6 Société Générale France 1631.87
7 Groupe BPCE France 1609.44
8 Deutsche Bank Germany 1580.14
9 ING Groep N.V. Netherlands 1105.80
10 Lloyds Banking Group UK 1075.73
11 UBS Group Switzerland 1063.80
12 Credit Mutuel France 1045.25
13 UniCredit Italy 1002.38
14 NatWest Group UK 994.27
15 Intesa Sanpaolo Italy 964.11
16 Credit Suisse Group Switzerland 873.33
17 BBVA Spain 846.41
18 La Banque Postale France 807.36
19 Standard Chartered UK 741.59
20 Rabobank Group Netherlands 696.28
21 DZ Bank AG Germany 678.40
22 Nordea Bank Finland 659.42
23 European Investment Bank Luxembourg 635.40
24 Commerzbank Germany 618.26
25 Danske Bank Denmark 612.90
26 KfW Group Germany 586.11
27 Cassa Depositi e Prestiti Italy 532.22
28 CaixaBank Spain 500.30
29 ABN AMRO Group Netherlands 476.90
30 Sberbank of Russia Russia 462.30
31 Svenska Handelsbanken Sweden 378.36
32 KBC Group Belgium 356.37
33 Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken Sweden 344.60
34 Landesbank Baden-Wurttemberg Germany 325.29
35 DNB Group Norway 313.84
36 Nationwide Building Society UK 305.74
37 Erste Group Bank Austria 297.20
38 Swedbank Sweden 296.08
39 BayernLB Germany 289.73
40 Raiffeisen Schweiz Switzerland 280.20
41 Banco Sabadell Spain 263.24
42 Landesbank Hessen-Thueringen (Helaba) Germany 255.66
43 Bankia. Spain 245.29
44 Nykredit Group Denmark 240.73
45 VTB Bank Russia 230.89
46 Belfius Bank Belgium 211.62
47 Banco BPM Italy 201.45
48 Zürcher Kantonalbank Switzerland 189.01
49 BNG Bank Netherlands 187.48
50 Raiffeisen Bank International Austria 183.87

European banking has been overtaken by Asian banking in the last two decades, and has been slow to recover from the financial crisis in the early 21st century. With that proviso, some of the most secure and stable banks are still found in Europe, with solid capital structures and extensive networks operating inside the European Union.