Turkish banks are seeking to boost the lowest savings rate among major emerging markets and allay a concern of credit rating companies by persuading customers to deposit gold.
Turks have about 5,000 tonnes of gold "stashed under their pillows", Ozcan Halac, the head of the Istanbul Gold Exchange, said in a Bloomberg interview on March 7.
That's equivalent to $270 billion (Dh991.7 billion), or more than a third of Turkey's $772 billion economy.
Akbank TAS, the lender part-owned by Citigroup Inc, said on April 5 it was offering a new gold deposit account to spur savings.
Asya Katilim Bankasi, an Islamic lender, has a target to double gold deposits to 20 tonnes this year, chief executive officer Abdullah Celik in an interview on April 19.
"There's so much gold out there and the banks can't wait to get their hands on it," Tim Ash, head of emerging markets research at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said on May 9.
"It would resolve a lot of the perceived credit risk for Turkey and its banking system."
Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor's cut the outlook on their junk rankings for Turkey to stable from positive in the past six months, saying the low savings rate is making the nation dependent on external capital and prone to volatility.
Yields on Turkish government two-year bonds are the highest in major emerging markets at 9.53 per cent, rising from 9 per cent in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The yield on dollar bonds due 2021 from Turkiye Garanti Bankasi, the nation's biggest bank by market value, has climbed to 6.23 per cent from 6.14 per cent two months ago.
Turkey's savings rate fell to a 22-year-low of 12.7 per cent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a March 14 report.
Only Portugal, Ireland and Greece have lower rates among economies of more than $100 billion, data from the International Monetary Fund show.
Turkey's gold would dwarf the $157 billion held by individual depositors at banks, according to data on the banking regulator's website.
Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said on the day of the World Bank report that his government was planning measures to address the savings shortage, including drawing unregistered assets into the financial system, in a speech in Ankara.
Turks traditionally give gold as gifts at events from weddings to births to graduations. The custom was supported by an economic incentive as inflation topped 70 per cent less than a decade ago, making gold more attractive than cash as a store of wealth.
The metal is so central to Turkey's commercial mindset that rents at Istanbul's six-century-old Grand Bazaar, one of the world's largest covered markets, are still paid in gold.
Turkey's inflation rate was 11.1 per cent in April, the second-highest after Argentina among major world economies. Central Bank Governor Erdem Basci says it will fall to 6.5 per cent by the end of the year.
Banks will need to overcome a legacy of mistrust to attract more deposits, according to Mert Yildiz, chief economist for Turkey at Renaissance Capital in London. The nation's financial crisis in 2001 drove 20 lenders into receivership.
For every Turk saving in a deposit account, three opted to keep their own gold or cash, according to a MasterCard Worldwide survey published in Dec-ember 2010. Even those who deposit keep their money with banks for no more than a few months, with about 90 per cent invested for less than a year, according to the Banks Association of Turkey.