A bank is a financial institution that accepts deposits from the public and creates credit. Lending activities can be performed either directly or indirectly through capital markets. Due to their importance in the financial stability of a country, banks are highly regulated in most countries. Most nations have institutionalized a system known as fractional reserve banking under which banks hold liquid assets equal to only a portion of their current liabilities. In addition to other regulations intended to ensure liquidity, banks are generally subject to minimum capital requirements based on an international set of capital standards, known as the Basel Accords.
Banking in its modern sense evolved in the 14th century in the prosperous cities of Renaissance Italy but in many ways was a continuation of ideas and concepts of credit and lending that had their roots in the ancient world. In the history of banking, a number of banking dynasties – notably, the Medicis, the Fuggers, the Welsers, the Berenbergs and the Rothschilds – have played a central role over many centuries. The oldest existing retail bank is Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, while the oldest existing merchant bank is Berenberg Bank.
Banks act as payment agents by conducting checking or current accounts for customers, paying cheques drawn by customers in the bank, and collecting cheques deposited to customers’ current accounts. Banks also enable customer payments via other payment methods such as Automated Clearing House (ACH), Wire transfers or telegraphic transfer, EFTPOS, and automated teller machines (ATMs).
Banks borrow money by accepting funds deposited on current accounts, by accepting term deposits, and by issuing debt securities such as banknotes and bonds. Banks lend money by making advances to customers on current accounts, by making installment loans, and by investing in marketable debt securities and other forms of money lending.
Banks provide different payment services, and a bank account is considered indispensable by most businesses and individuals. Non-banks that provide payment services such as remittance companies are normally not considered as an adequate substitute for a bank account.
Banks can create new money when they make a loan. New loans throughout the banking system generate new deposits elsewhere in the system. The money supply is usually increased by the act of lending, and reduced when loans are repaid faster than new ones are generated. In the United Kingdom between 1997 and 2007, there was an increase in the money supply, largely caused by much more bank lending, which served to push up property prices and increase private debt. The amount of money in the economy as measured by M4 in the UK went from £750 billion to £1700 billion between 1997 and 2007, much of the increase caused by bank lending. If all the banks increase their lending together, then they can expect new deposits to return to them and the amount of money in the economy will increase. Excessive or risky lending can cause borrowers to default, the banks then become more cautious, so there is less lending and therefore less money so that the economy can go from boom to bust as happened in the UK and many other Western economies after 2007.
Range of activities:
Activities undertaken by banks include personal banking, corporate banking, investment banking, private banking, transaction banking, insurance, consumer finance, foreign exchange trading, commodity trading, trading in equities, futures and options trading and money market trading.
Capital and risk:
Banks face a number of risks in order to conduct their business, and how well these risks are managed and understood is a key driver behind profitability, and how much capital a bank is required to hold. Bank capital consists principally of equity, retained earnings and subordinated debt.
After the 2007-2009 financial crisis, regulators force banks to issue Contingent convertible bonds (CoCos).These are hybrid capital securities that absorb losses in accordance with their contractual terms when the capital of the issuing bank falls below a certain level. Then debt is reduced and bank capitalization gets a boost. Owing to their capacity to absorb losses, CoCos have the potential to satisfy regulatory capital requirement.
Some of the main risks faced by banks include:
- Credit risk: risk of loss arising from a borrower who does not make payments as promised.
- Liquidity risk: risk that a given security or asset cannot be traded quickly enough in the market to prevent a loss (or make the required profit).
- Market risk: risk that the value of a portfolio, either an investment portfolio or a trading portfolio, will decrease due to the change in value of the market risk factors.
- Operational risk: risk arising from execution of a company’s business functions.
- Reputational risk: a type of risk related to the trustworthiness of business.
- Macroeconomic risk: risks related to the aggregate economy the bank is operating in.
The capital requirement is a bank regulation, which sets a framework within which a bank or depository institution must manage its balance sheet. The categorization of assets and capital is highly standardized so that it can be risk weighted.
Currently commercial banks are regulated in most jurisdictions by government entities and require a special bank license to operate.
Usually the definition of the business of banking for the purposes of regulation is extended to include acceptance of deposits, even if they are not repayable to the customer’s order – although money lending, by itself, is generally not included in the definition.
Unlike most other regulated industries, the regulator is typically also a participant in the market, being either a publicly or privately governed central bank. Central banks also typically have a monopoly on the business of issuing banknotes. However, in some countries this is not the case. In the UK, for example, the Financial Services Authority licenses banks, and some commercial banks (such as the Bank of Scotland) issue their own banknotes in addition to those issued by the Bank of England, the UK government’s central bank.
Banking law is based on a contractual analysis of the relationship between the bank (defined above) and the customer – defined as any entity for which the bank agrees to conduct an account.
The law implies rights and obligations into this relationship as follows:
- The bank account balance is the financial position between the bank and the customer: when the account is in credit, the bank owes the balance to the customer; when the account is overdrawn, the customer owes the balance to the bank.
- The bank agrees to pay the customer’s checks up to the amount standing to the credit of the customer’s account, plus any agreed overdraft limit.
- The bank may not pay from the customer’s account without a mandate from the customer, e.g. a cheque drawn by the customer.
- The bank agrees to promptly collect the cheques deposited to the customer’s account as the customer’s agent, and to credit the proceeds to the customer’s account.
- The bank has a right to combine the customer’s accounts, since each account is just an aspect of the same credit relationship.
- The bank has a lien on cheques deposited to the customer’s account, to the extent that the customer is indebted to the bank.
- The bank must not disclose details of transactions through the customer’s account – unless the customer consents, there is a public duty to disclose, the bank’s interests require it, or the law demands it.
- The bank must not close a customer’s account without reasonable notice, since cheques are outstanding in the ordinary course of business for several days.
These implied contractual terms may be modified by express agreement between the customer and the bank. The statutes and regulations in force within a particular jurisdiction may also modify the above terms and/or create new rights, obligations or limitations relevant to the bank-customer relationship.
Some types of financial institution, such as building societies and credit unions, may be partly or wholly exempt from bank license requirements, and therefore regulated under separate rules.
The requirements for the issue of a bank license vary between jurisdictions but typically include:
- Minimum capital
- Minimum capital ratio
- ‘Fit and Proper’ requirements for the bank’s controllers, owners, directors, or senior officers
- Approval of the bank’s business plan as being sufficiently prudent and plausible.
Types of banks:
Banks’ activities can be divided into:
- retail banking, dealing directly with individuals and small businesses;
- business banking, providing services to mid-market business;
- corporate banking, directed at large business entities;
- private banking, providing wealth management services to high-net-worth individuals and families;
- Investment banking, relating to activities on the financial markets.
Most banks are profit-making, private enterprises. However, some are owned by government, or are non-profit organizations.
Globalization in the banking industry:
In modern time there have been huge reductions to the barriers of global competition in the banking industry. Increases in telecommunications and other financial technologies, such as Bloomberg, have allowed banks to extend their reach all over the world, since they no longer have to be near customers to manage both their finances and their risk. The growth in cross-border activities has also increased the demand for banks that can provide various services across borders to different nationalities. However, despite these reductions in barriers and growth in cross-border activities, the banking industry is nowhere near as globalized as some other industries. In the USA, for instance, very few banks even worry about the Riegle–Neal Act, which promotes more efficient interstate banking. In the vast majority of nations around the globe the market share for foreign owned banks is currently less than a tenth of all market shares for banks in a particular nation. One reason the banking industry has not been fully globalized is that it is more convenient to have local banks provide loans to small business and individuals. On the other hand, for large corporations, it is not as important in what nation the bank is in, since the corporation’s financial information is available around the globe.