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Belgian Competition Authority Concludes Preliminary Review of Batopin Cash Dispenser Network

  • 03/05/2024
  • News

The Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) announced on 2 May 2024 that it had concluded its preliminary review of the agreement among Belgium’s four major banks to create a common network of automatic cash dispensers run by a joint venture company called Batopin (see, attached press release in 3 language versions).
The BCA had opened its inquiry in December 2022 over concerns that the banks’ decision to pool their cash dispensers rather than engage in competition to provide consumers this financial service would result in a reduced access to cash. The fear was that this diminished access possibility would not only translate in fewer cash dispenser points but also in longer lines at the points that remained in operation.
Batopin was not only drawn into a competition inquiry, but it was also met with fierce political opposition. This prompted industry association Febelfin to conclude an agreement with the federal government in March 2023 promising to expand the number of cash dispenser locations. However, that agreement did not stop the BCA from pursuing its investigation.
In publishing its press release before concluding its investigation, the BCA was apparently keen on showing that it takes decisive action to protect consumers in a file that seems to be of concern to a broad segment of society. In the space of only a few months, the BCA flexed again its muscles in a stand-off with the banking sector. It had already done so at the end of October 2023 when it published its assessment of the lack of competition in the retail banking sector and identified market deficiencies reflected in the low remuneration of savings accounts against the backdrop of increased key rates applied by the European Central Bank. The BCA’s opinion (in Dutch and in French) targeted the very same alleged oligopoly formed by the shareholders of Batopin (Belfius, BNP Paribas Fortis, ING and KBC) and offered a series of suggestions to remove a range of market rigidities.
The question is now whether the BCA will succeed in exacting concessions from the Batopin shareholders that exceed the commitments which they have entered into when concluding their 2023 agreement with the federal government.

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