Japanese bank trains staff for a novel scenario: positive interest rates

By Takahiko Wada and Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – As Japan nears an end to eight years of negative interest rates, a regional lender in Kyoto is offering e-learning to train up staff who have no experience lending money or collecting deposits in a positive interest rate environment.

One of the sessions, targeting roughly 3,300 Bank of Kyoto employees, explains why interest rates are important, how the lending rate is set and how rising interest rates affect the bank’s business and its clients.

In other sessions, the bank’s older executives with experience of the days when Japan had positive interest rates share their know-how on convincing borrowers to swallow higher charges.

The e-training, which is offered in sessions of about 30 minutes viewable on smartphones, also aims to get younger staff geared up for intensifying competition to attract deposits, which until now had been a liability as lenders sat on a huge pile of money.

Other sessions offer more practical guidance on how to explain to borrowers that lending rates will rise and to increase deposits through better communication with customers.

“It’s pretty basic because we want younger staff, in particular, to understand what it’s like in a world where interest rates are positive,” Tadashi Shimamoto, deputy general manager at Bank of Kyoto’s human resources and general affairs division, said in an interview.

“It’s crucial to have our staff understand that things are quite different when interest rates rise, and to change their mindset so we’re ready when the moment comes,” he added.

Japan has seen its policy rates stuck at or below zero for decades due to prolonged low inflation and economic stagnation.

In the meantime, ordinary depositors have received only a tiny amount of interest on savings and mortgage rates have been very low.

But with inflation exceeding the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) 2% target for over a year, the central bank is seen pulling short-term interest rates out of negative territory as early as Tuesday.

Any such move, which would be Japan’s first interest rate hike since 2007, will likely force lenders and borrowers to overhaul their planning based on the assumption that cheap cash would remain abundant for years.

Bank of Kyoto hired about 150 new graduates last year, and plans to hire another 180 this spring. The lender said it began preparing the e-learning sessions from the start of this year, when the BOJ began dropping hints of a near-term end to negative interest rates.

“For our younger staff, interest rate have been stuck at zero throughout their career, so it’s the first time they will see rates go up,” Shimamoto said. “It’s uncharted territory, a whole new world for them.”


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