With financial markets strengthening in most quarters, a stellar credit rating—not just a solid one—is now required to gain a place on our list of the World’s Top 50 Safest Global Banks.

Author: Andrew Cunningham

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One thing became clear early on when determining this year’s ranking of the World’s Safest Banks: It is getting a lot harder to make the grade.

To be named one of Global Finance’s 50 safest banks in 2015, financial institutions must hold two credit ratings of at least AA- and one no lower than A+—or an equivalent combination—from among the three major international credit ratings agencies. By comparison, a single AA- rating and two A+ ratings got you on the list in 2014. In years before that, three A+ ratings were enough to secure a position in the top 50.

The loftier standards are mostly due to a raft of rating upgrades, often from Moody’s. Norway’s DNB, for one, received a two-notch upgrade from Moody’s in June 2015, vaulting the bank into 39th spot on the list. Likewise, Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank received a two-notch upgrade from Moody’s in May, pushing the bank to 49th position in the rankings. In both cases, the upgrades were prompted by revisions to Moody’s
bank-rating methodology.

Higher up the ranking, however, familiar names continue to dominate. Germany’s KfW, with assets of $594 billion, retains its crown as the safest bank in the world, with AAA ratings from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. Three other banks hold three AAA ratings—and their positions on the list as well. Switzerland’s Zürcher Kantonalbank once again comes in at number two. German bank Landwirtschaftliche Rentenbank ranks third. L-Bank (for Landeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg - Förderbank), also headquartered in Germany, is fourth on the list.

In contrast, two financial institutions cracked the Top 50 for the first time. Swiss bank Pictet & Cie enters the ranking (at number 24) for the first time. The bank has not been eligible for inclusion in the past owing to its lack of financial disclosure. Just coming up with an accurate figure for the bank’s year-end assets can be difficult. During the second half of 2014, however, Pictet  & Cie began issuing financial statements as a result of a change in its legal structure to a limited liability company.

Germany’s Deutsche Apotheker- und Ärztebank also enters the ranking for the first time this year, at number 23. The bank was ineligible for inclusion in previous years because of its small asset base. Similarly, Kiwibank reenters the ranks of the Safest 50 this year (number 32). The New Zealand financial institution was excluded from consideration in the two previous years because of insufficient assets. Banque Cantonale Vaudoise is the biggest mover in this year’s ranking of safest banks. The Swiss bank leaped 29 places to number 15—following a two-notch upgrade from Moody’s in May. Germany’s DZ Bank climbed 25 points to number 21 after receiving a two-notch upgrade from Moody’s in June and a one-notch upgrade from Fitch in March. Both of Moody’s rating actions were prompted by its revamped rating methodology, which, among other things, factors in the value of support from shareholders and parent companies.

The biggest casualty in 2015 was HSBC. The UK-based bank ranked 27th in 2014. But it fell out of the rankings this year after ratings downgrades from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. BNY Mellon, U.S. Bancorp and Saudi Arabia’s Samba Financial Group also dropped out of the top 50, despite holding the same ratings as they did last year. With bank credit-worthiness on the rise, a score of 19 points no longer makes the grade.


European banks account for 22 of the World’s 50 Safest Banks, up from 19, last year.

In fact, European banks that are government-owned—or have ties to state or regional authorities—occupy the first nine places on the list. But France’s
state-owned Société de Financement Local (SFIL), which placed 10th in 2014, dropped four places to number 14 in this year’s ranking, following a downgrade by Fitch in December.

As a result, TD Bank Group moves to 10th position. With the bump-up, the Canadian company takes the honor for the highest-ranked private-sector bank in the top 50. All told, six banks from Canada make the list.

Ten companies from Asia scored high enough to secure a place in the ranking—three each from China, South Korea and Singapore, along with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Bank. No Japanese bank makes the list. Four financial institutions from Australia are in the top 50, led by National Australia Bank at number 17. Kiwibank is the sole bank from New Zealand deemed by Global Finance to be among the world’s safest.

Three banks from the Gulf  States feature among the Safest 50. But no banks from other Middle Eastern countries or sub-Saharan Africa appear on the list. Only three banks from the United States feature in the ranking. And BancoEstado from Chile, at 48th, is the sole representative from Latin America. To be eligible for inclusion in Global Finance’s World’s Safest Banks, financial institutions must be among the largest 500 banks in the world, ranked by assets, and they must be rated by at least two of the three international credit-rating agencies. Eligible banks are then scored, with 10 points being awarded for an AAA rating down to one point for a BBB- rating. If a bank is rated by only two of the agencies, an implied score for the third rating is created. The figure is calculated by taking the average of the other two scores and then deducting one point. Banks that are wholly owned by other banks are not eligible for inclusion. Banks that score the same number of points are ranked in order of asset size. That approach underscores the strong positive correlation between bank size and high credit ratings.