Can You Guess the Banks Behind These Terrible Balance Sheets?


Falling oil and gas prices and an Asian stock market crisis have resulted in some less-than-stellar annual reports for the world’s largest banks, and some have fared worse than others. Pity the CEO who is forced to stand in front of shareholders and say, “It rips at our soul every time we look at these numbers and we don’t ever want to have to stand up and tell this story again.”

Now that all the Q4 2015 results are in, the world is well aware of the winners and the losers of the banking world. But have you really been paying attention to the analysis?

Balance sheets are better be kept safe behind the doors of virtual data rooms, however, we have managed to find some for you. Take our quiz and see if you can guess, which bank we are describing. The answers are at the bottom – no peeking!

Mystery Bank #1

After a series of profit warnings, in 2015 this UK-based bank finally suffered its first annual loss since 1989. Already 2016 has seen this bank fight off acquisition rumours, and bonus scandals, pulling its shares down by as much as 11 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

The (relatively) new CEO has promised to overhaul the bank’s management team, shed 15,000 jobs globally, and remove billions of dollars in right-weighted assets. Only time will tell whether or not this will be enough to bring this multinational bank back into the black.

Which bank is it?

1. Standard Chartered
3. RBS

Mystery Bank #2

It is one of the biggest banks in the US, so it made headlines when it announced profit losses of 13% in the first quarter of this year…especially since its 2015 profits reached a ten-year peak.

Perhaps it is a case of delayed returns, as this bank has certainly seen its share of controversy over the past few years. A multi-billion-dollar settlement with the Justice Department took a chunk out of its balance sheet two years ago, and it continues to face criticism (and lawsuits) around its role in the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Announcing the Q1 results, the bank’s CFO said that cautious times were ahead, adding, “We’re not trying to make all our money in good times only to lose it in bad times.” Expect to see swingeing cuts in the year ahead, and a renewed commitment to sustainable energy investments.

Which bank is it?

1. JP Morgan
2. Citigroup
4. Bank of America

Mystery Bank #3

The ‘Big Four’ Chinese banks all count the government as their majority shareholders, and this one is no exception. In order to analyse the 2015 results for this bank, you need to read between the lines.
Despite weathering one of its worst ever years, this bank still showed a year-on-year profit of 0.5 per cent. However, this is the smallest profit increase since the bank listed in 2006.

It still boasts the highest tier one capital of any bank in the world, but in 2015 growth started to significantly slow.

However, the ‘real’ results may be somewhat masked by the additional funding channelled into this bank by the state, in an effort to appease investors and analysts.

Which bank is it?

1. Bank of China
2. ICBC China
3. China Construction Bank

Mystery Bank #4

Like China, Russia’s government is heavily involved in the country’s banking industry, which makes it difficult to spot bad news on the balance sheets. However, what we do know is that all banks in central and eastern Europe suffered from the falling value of the Russian and Ukrainian currencies, and that was only the beginning of this bank’s troubles.

US sanctions were placed on this bank in 2014 and 2015, in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Furthermore, this bank has been more heavily hit than others by drop in oil prices, forcing a series of government interventions worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Vladimir Putin has said that he doesn’t expect to see signs of recovery in this bank until at least 2017.

Which bank is it?

1. VTB Bank
2. Gazprombank
3. Sberbank (SBER)

Mystery Bank #5

As one of the best-known banks in Europe, its troubles have been well documented in the press. There was the espionage scandal in 2007; a headline role in the global mortgage crisis; the Libor scandal in April 2015; and a series of sanctions violations exposed towards the end of last year. So it will come as no surprise to learn that the bank’s litigation costs more than doubled in 2015.

But legal woes are only partly to blame for the bank’s massive €6.8 billion loss in 2015. Bonuses have now been frozen, and restructuring is underway, but investors have been warned to brace themselves for more bad news in the year ahead.

Which bank is it?
Deutsche Bank
ING Bank


Mystery Bank #1 – a) Standard Chartered
Mystery Bank #2 – c) Bank of America
Mystery Bank #3 – b) ICBC China
Mystery Bank #4 – b) Gazprombank
Mystery Bank #5 – a) Deutsche Bank

So how did you do…?

If you got 5 out of 5…you really know your stuff. If you aren’t one already, have you ever considered becoming an analyst?

If you got 4 out of 5…you are addicted to the financial pages, and it’s paying off!

If you got 3 out of 5…you may need to broaden your global financial knowledge in the year ahead – maybe a trip to China is in order?

If you got 2 out of 5…it’s time to start paying more attention to the nitty gritty details of your portfolio!

If you got 1 out of 5…you probably shouldn’t be investing this year.

If you got 0 out of 5… clearly you’ve spent the past year on a desert island with no Wi-Fi, newspapers or phone lines. Welcome back to reality – sorry it’s so grim.

Recommended for you