Bank tax (Ofer Abarbanel online library)

bank tax, or a bank levy, is a tax on banks which was discussed in the context of the financial crisis of 2007–08. On 16 April 2010, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put forward three possible options to deal with the crisis., which were presented in response to an earlier request of the G20 leaders, at the September 2009 G20 Pittsburgh summit, for an investigative report on options to deal with the crisis.[1]

The IMF opted in favour of the “financial stability contribution” (FSC) option, which many media have referred to as a “bank tax”. Both before and after that IMF report, there was considerable debate among national leaders as to whether such a “bank tax” should be global or semi-global, or whether it should be applied only in certain nations.


In the context of the financial crisis of 2007–08, in August 2009, British Financial Services Authority chairman Lord Adair Turner said in Prospect magazine that he would be happy to consider a “tax on banks” to prevent excessive bonus payments.[2]

G20 request to IMF

At the 2009 G20 Pittsburgh summit, in September, the G20 national leaders asked the IMF “to prepare a report for our next meeting with regard to the range of options countries have adopted or are considering as to how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system.”[3]

IMF responds to G20 request

When the IMF presented its interim report[4][5] for the G20 on April 16, 2010, it set out three options, each of which is distinct from another:

Financial stability contribution (FSC)

Financial stability contribution (FSC) – a tax on a financial institution’s balance sheet (most probably on its liabilities or possibly on assets) whose proceeds would most likely be used to create an insurance fund to bail out the industry in any future crisis rather than making taxpayers pay for bailouts.

Much of the IMF’s report is devoted to the first option of a levy on all major financial institutions balance sheets. Initially it could be imposed at a flat rate and later it could be refined so that the institutions with the most risky portfolios would pay more than those who took on fewer risks.

The levy could be modeled on US President Obama’s proposed Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee to raise US$90 billion over 10 years from US banks with assets of more than US$50 billion. If Obama’s proposal had passed, the proceeds would have gone into general government revenues. They would have been used to pay the costs of the 2008 crisis rather than gone into an insurance fund in anticipation of the next one.[3][6]

Financial activities tax (FAT)

A financial activities tax (FAT) – a tax on the sum of bank profits and bankers’ remuneration packages with the proceeds going into general government revenues.[7][8]

Financial transaction tax (FTT)

Main article: Financial transaction tax

A financial transactions tax (FTT) – a tax on a broad range of financial instruments including stocks, bonds, currencies and derivatives.

In November 2009, two months after the G20 Pittsburgh summit, G20 national Finance Ministers met in Scotland to address the financial crisis of 2007–08, but were unwilling to endorse the German proposal for a financial transactions tax:

“European Union leaders urged the International Monetary Fund on Friday to consider a global tax on financial transactions in spite of opposition from the US and doubts at the IMF itself. In a communiqué issued after a two-day summit, the EU’s 27 national leaders stopped short of making a formal appeal for the introduction of a so-called “Tobin tax” but made clear they regarded it as a potentially useful revenue-raising instrument.”[9]

While the IMF does not endorse an FTT, it concedes that “The FTT should not be dismissed on grounds of administrative practicality.”[3][4]

Difference between a bank tax and a financial transactions tax

A “bank tax” (“bank levy”) differs from a financial transaction tax in the following way:

A financial transaction tax is a tax on a specific type (or types) of financial transaction for a specific purpose (or purposes). This term has been most commonly associated with the financial sector, as opposed to consumption taxes paid by consumers. However, it is not a tax on the financial institution itself. Instead, it is charged only on the specific transactions that are designated as taxable. If an institution never carries out the taxable transaction, then it will never be taxed on that transaction.[10] Furthermore, if it carries out only one such transaction, then it will only be taxed for that one transaction. As such, this tax is neither a financial activities tax (FAT), nor a financial stability contribution (FSC) (or “bank tax”),[11]for example. This clarification is important in discussions about using a financial transaction tax as a tool to selectively discourage excessive speculation without discouraging any other activity (as Keynes originally envisioned it in 1936.[12] )

Aftermath to IMF report

On June 27, 2010 at the 2010 G20 Toronto summit, the G20 leaders declared that a “global tax” was no longer “on the table,” but that individual countries will be able to decide whether to implement a levy against financial institutions to recoup billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts.[13]

Nevertheless, Britain, France and Germany had already agreed before the summit to impose a “bank tax.”[13] On May 20, 2010, German officials were understood to favour a financial transaction tax over a financial activities tax.[14]

Two simultaneous taxes considered in the European Union

On June 28, 2010, the European Union’s executive said it will study whether the European Union should go alone in imposing a tax on financial transactions after G20 leaders failed to agree on the issue.

The financial transactions tax would be separate from a bank levy, or a resolution levy, which some governments are also proposing to impose on banks to insure them against the costs of any future bailouts. EU leaders instructed their finance ministers in May 2010 to work out by the end of October 2010, details for the banking levy, but any financial transaction tax remains much more controversial.[1][15]


Should the bank tax be global?

On August 30, 2009, British Financial Services Authority chairman Lord Adair Turner had said it was “ridiculous” to think he would propose a new tax on London and not the rest of the world.[16] However, in May, and June 2010, the government of Canada expressed opposition to the bank tax becoming “global” in nature.[11]

Controversy over the IMF’s refusal to promote a financial transactions tax

In a detailed analysis of the IMF’s proposals, Stephan Schulmeister of the Austrian Institute of Economic Research finds that, “the assertion of the IMF paper, that [a financial-transactions tax] ‘is not focused on the core sources of financial instability,’ does not seem to have a solid foundation in the empirical evidence.”[17] Yet at least one independent commentator has endorsed the IMF’s view.[1]

In an alternative critique of the IMF’s stance, Aldo Caliari of U.S. NGO the Center of Concern said, “the naiveté with which the IMF approaches its preferred mechanism — a bank tax tied to systemic risks — is astonishing for such a knowledgeable institution, unless it is in fact designed to let the financial sector off the hook.”[17] He argues that the FAT and FSC do not reduce the overall risk in the system, and may increase it if banks are encouraged to feel that the taxes provide a government guarantee of future bailouts. Nonetheless, a 2010 Tulane Law Review article lent lukewarm support to President Obama’s Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee, which is a “bank tax” similar to the FSC.[1] The Tulane article concluded that taxing financial transactions would be “foolish”, and that a bank tax “could constitute shrewd regulatory reform if done properly.”[1]


  1. ^ Jump up to:ab c d e Richard T. Page, “Foolish Revenge or Shrewd Regulation? Financial-Industry Tax Law Reforms Proposed in the Wake of the Financial Crisis?” 85 Tul. L. Rev. 191 (2010).
  2. ^BBC (August 30, 2009). “Turner defends bank tax comments”. BBC. Retrieved 24 June2010.
  3. ^ Jump up to:ab c John Dillon (May 2010). “An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Adopt a Financial Transactions Tax”. KAIROS Policy Briefing Paper No. 24 revised and updated. KAIROS. Archived from the original on January 23, 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  4. ^ Jump up to:ab International Monetary Fund (April 16, 2010). “A FAIR AND SUBSTANTIAL CONTRIBUTION BY THE FINANCIAL SECTOR INTERIM REPORT FOR THE G-20”. International Monetary Fund; Excerpt and LINK TO FULL REPORT as a PDF – republished online by Global Print Monitor on April 22, 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  5. ^BBC (April 21, 2010). “IMF proposes two big new bank taxes to fund bail-outs”. BBC. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  6. ^BBC (April 21, 2010). “IMF proposes two big new bank taxes to fund bail-outs”. BBC. Archived from the original on 22 April 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  7. ^Peter Thal Larsen (23 April 2010). “Low-FAT diet”. Reuters Breaking News. Archived from the original on 24 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  8. ^“A FAIR AND SUBSTANTIAL CONTRIBUTION BY THE FINANCIAL SECTOR” (PDF). International Monetary Fund. June 2010. pp. 21–24. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
  9. ^Tony Barber (2009-12-11). “EU leaders urge IMF to consider global Tobin tax”. The Financial Times.
  10. ^This illustration is attributed to the public lecture of economist Rodney Schmidt, Principal Researcher, The North-South Institute, June 20, 2010, at the “People’s Summit,” held at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
  11. ^ Jump up to:ab The Canadian Press (June 24, 2010). “Flaherty says global bank tax a distraction for G20”. CTV news via The Canadian Press. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  12. ^ Stephen Spratt of Intelligence Capital (September 2006). “A Sterling Solution”. Stamp Out Poverty report. Stamp Out Poverty Campaign. pp. 15–16. Retrieved 2010-01-02.
  13. ^ Jump up to:ab Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew (June 27, 2010). “Banks relieved as G20 backs off on bank tax”. Toronto Star. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  14. ^David Charter (May 20, 2010). “Merkel leads calls for global financial tax as markets continue to slide”. Times Online. Archived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  15. ^Reuters (June 28, 2010). “EU to study bank transaction tax after G20”. Reuters. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  16. ^BBC (August 30, 2009). “Turner defends bank tax comments”. BBC. Retrieved 24 June2010.
  17. ^ Jump up to:ab Bretton Woods Project (June 17, 2010). “IMF bank tax proposals cause controversy”. Bretton Woods Project. Archived from the original on 28 July 2010. Retrieved 24 June2010.


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