With zero interest rates, the government has locked savers into a trap from which it is difficult to escape, but it is to its advantage, since it can finance its budget deficit at a lower cost. How does it do this? We must begin by asking the question: Why do banks and insurers buy debt that brings them little or nothing in return? The answer is simple: because they are obliged to do so by legislation... of state origin.
In effect, under the pretext of fighting financial crises, governments have put in place international solvency standards that apply to banks (Basel III) and insurers (Solvency II). These financial institutions are obliged to have assets in their balance sheet that are considered "safe". Is it gold? Not at all, it is about the government debts of the eurozone countries! The trick has been played and the trap has been closed.
In the past, insurers used to invest a lot in real estate, sometimes even by building (constructions still bear witness to this) but now this investment has become much less profitable. In fact, given these famous "solvency standards", an investment in real estate is considered risky, which forces the insurer or banker to freeze cash in return (which costs him money). The same would apply if he had the idea of buying physical gold. On the other hand, debt from countries in the eurozone is considered "risk-free", which prevents him from holding cash. The bank and the insurance company are, in fact, obliged to acquire sovereign bonds, which is what is called in economic language- and the term is perfectly well chosen- "financial repression".
If bankers and insurers were free to do business as they see fit, accountable only to their clients and shareholders, the composition of their balance sheets would be extremely different. There would be more real estate, more stocks (volatile but profitable in the long run), and undoubtedly, physical gold. Returns would be better for the saver, but governments in deficit would find it harder to find buyers for their treasury bills and they would be forced to make them more attractive by increasing their interest rates, i.e. the debt burden in their budgets, etc. It is their entire policy of subsidies, aid, social spending and excessive staffing levels that would be called into question, and thus the re-election of the governments in place. The horror!
We might as well make the world of finance play the role of the "bad guy", accuse it of all evils, and regulate it. If they really wanted to confront the dangers of finance, governments would oppose the excessive concentrations that make the banking mastodons "too big to fail", and therefore really dangerous, but this is not the path that is being taken at all. Large groups are, by nature, more controllable by the government than a myriad of independent banks.
In the end, the saver is trapped with ridiculous returns. The way out is not to look for better banking products, it is to get out of this system and invest in physical gold, because such in-breeding between governments and financial institutions eventually reaches the very value of money.