Tag Archives: Deposit insurance

Deposit Insurance: Economics and Politics

On VoxEU, Charles Calomiris and Matthew Jaremski discuss the origins of bank liability insurance. They argue that it is redistribution, not the aim to boost efficiency, which explains a lot of the action.

… there are two theoretical approaches to explaining the creation and expansion of deposit insurance. The first is an economic approach grounded in potential efficiency gains from limiting bank runs (i.e. the public interest motivation). The second is a political approach grounded in the rising power of special interest groups that favoured insurance as a means to access subsidies (i.e. the private interest motivation).

… Because insurance reduces the incentive for market discipline, it may increase fundamental insolvency risk … whether, on balance, bank liability insurance reduces or increases risk … is an empirical question. Economic theories of liability insurance only make sense on economic grounds if the gains from liquidity risk reduction tend to exceed the moral hazard or adverse selection costs from reduced market discipline.

… Political models seek to explain why liability insurance may be chosen to favour certain groups in society even when it imposes large costs on society in the form of higher systemic risk for banks. In this context, liability insurance needs to be understood as part of an equilibrium political bargain achieved by a winning political coalition. …

… we review empirical evidence about, first, which factors are shown to be instrumental in creating bank liability insurance; and second, evidence about the consequences of passing insurance … We find that political theories are much more consistent with both sets of evidence.

… the historical push for liability insurance in the US came from a coalition of small rural bankers and landowning farmers …

Worldwide, bank liability insurance remained a unique (and controversial) policy choice of the US until the late 1950s, but it spread rapidly throughout the world in recent decades …

Like the adoption of liability insurance in the US, the recent global wave of legislation creating and expanding insurance can also be traced to political influences. …

The expansion of liability insurance has been generally associated with reductions in banking system stability …

The political theories of liability insurance point to a major political advantage. It provides an effective means for a government to supply hard-to-trace subsidies to particular classes of bank borrowers … agricultural borrowers or urban mortgage borrowers …

Liability insurance can create a subsidy for banks (which they can pass through, in part, to borrowers) only if prudential regulation and supervision permit banks to take risks at the expense of the insurer. Thus, lax regulation and supervision are an important part of the political bargain that allows liability insurance to deliver subsidies to banks and targeted borrowers. …

IMF Recommendations for Switzerland

The concluding statement of the IMF mission to Switzerland (consultations under Article IV) includes the following top 5 recommendations:

  • Ease monetary policy further to help limit an expected slowdown in growth and reduce risks related to very low inflation.
  • To further support growth, allow fiscal automatic stabilizers to operate freely. If the downturn is more severe than expected, consider discretionary fiscal easing.
  • Adopt pension reform to ensure the sustainability of the safety net for future generations.
  • Raise banks’ minimum leverage ratio requirements to more ambitious levels to ensure banks have adequate capital to weather future shocks without recourse to public support.
  • Pay bank auditors from a FINMA-managed, bank-financed fund rather than by the bank that is being audited to avoid conflicts of interest.

The IMF also calls for an overhaul of the deposit insurance scheme. It sees three risks to its central scenario:

  • Risks related to low inflation.
  • Uncertainty about EU relations and immigration.
  • Global economic environment.

“Toward a Run-Free Financial System”

In the tenth chapter of “Across the Great Divide: New Perspectives on the Financial Crisis,” John Cochrane argues that at its core, the financial crisis was a run and thus, policy responses should focus on mitigating the risk of runs (blog posts by Cochrane on the same topic can be found here and here). Some excerpts:

… demand deposits, fixed-value money-market funds, or overnight debt … [should be] backed entirely by short-term Treasuries. Investors who want higher returns must bear price risk. …

Banks can still mediate transactions, of course. For example, a bank-owned ATM machine can deliver cash by selling your shares in a Treasury-backed money market fund … Banks can still be broker-dealers, custodians, derivative and swap counterparties and market makers, and providers of a wide range of financial services, credit cards, and so forth. They simply may not fund themselves by issuing large amounts of run-prone debt.

If a demand for separate bank debt really exists, the equity of 100 percent equity-financed banks can be held by a downstream institution or pass-through vehicle that issues equity and debt tranches. That vehicle can fail and be resolved in an hour …

Rather than outlawing short-term debt, Cochrane suggests to levy corrective taxes on run-prone liabilities. Moreover:

… technology allows us to overcome the long-standing objections to narrow banking. Most deeply, “liquidity” no longer requires that people hold a large inventory of fixed-value, pay-on-demand, and hence run-prone securities.

… electronic transactions can easily be made with Treasury-backed or floating-value money-market fund shares, in which the vast majority of transactions are simply netted by the intermediary. … On the supply end, $18 trillion of government debt is enough to back any conceivable remaining need for fixed-value default-free assets.

Cochrane rejects the claim that the need for money-like assets can only be met by banks that “transform” maturity or liquidity. He argues that current regulation reflects a history of piecemeal responses that triggered the need for additional measures; and he points out that the shadow banking system creates run risks because a “broker-dealer may have used your securities as collateral for borrowing” to fund proprietary trading.

Cochrane debunks crisis lingo and clarifies links between aggregate variables:

The only way to consume less and invest less is to pile up government debt. So a “flight to quality” and a “decline in aggregate demand” are the same thing.

He questions the need for fixed value securities other than short-term government debt as means of payment or savings vehicle; offers a short history of financial regulation; and deplores regulatory discretion.

Banking Union

Willem Buiter, Ebrahim Rahbari and Antonio Montilla provide a detailed assessment of the need for a Euro Area banking union and the progress towards it, in a Citi Research document. Some excerpts from the abstract:

… a single supervisor, a common resolution mechanism, including a joint recapitalisation back-up, and an effective lender of last resort – is necessary for the euro area (EA) to survive.

The CA’s [comprehensive assessment’s] conclusion will likely boost EA financial conditions in coming months. Even so, we believe the CA should have been more stringent, current backstops are still inadequate, and the CA will not eliminate divergences in financial conditions …

Remaining elements of narrow banking union are also very important — These are the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM). In particular, the SRM and its bail-in provisions should materially reduce the likelihood that an EA sovereign will be dragged into insolvency through tax-payer-funded bank bailouts. Reduced moral hazard will also likely lower the likelihood and severity of future banking crises. And the combination of CA, SSM and SRM are also likely to mean that the ECB will be an effective lender of last resort for EA banks (and sovereigns).

… one key fragility remains: excessive two-way links between national sovereigns and banks. Risk-weighting of sovereign debt and concentration limits on sovereign debt holdings by banks are necessary to break these links.

A single deposit guarantee scheme is not necessary for monetary union and requires a deeper fiscal union than the minimal common backstops required to make monetary union work. It is therefore unlikely in the foreseeable future, in our view. An EA sovereign debt restructuring mechanism (SDRM) may be necessary to handle legacy sovereign debt restructurings and possible future sovereign insolvencies, but beyond the limited mutualised fiscal backstops necessary for banking union and the SDRM, deeper fiscal union is neither necessary for EA survival nor likely, for political reasons, in the foreseeable future.

The report contains many interesting figures, for example on the exposure of banks to their domestic governments; the correlation between sovereign and bank CDS spreads; lending standards; the share of bank loans in banks’ balance sheets etc.

Conference on “Law and Economics” with Focus Session on “Bank Resolution” at the Study Center Gerzensee

Joint with CEPR, the Study Center Gerzensee organised a conference on law and economics. The program can be viewed here and papers can be downloaded from CEPR’s website. The focus session on bank resolution featured contributions by

  • Patrick Bolton and Jeffrey Gordon (paper)
  • Martin Hellwig (paper, slides)
  • Mathias Dewatripont (slides)
  • Gerard Hertig
  • Wolf-Georg Ringe (paper)
  • Paul Tucker (paper)

In his talk, Jeff Gordon explained how Dodd-Frank extends the FDIC’s resolution technology from the 1930s to “non-banks” that engage in banking business. Dodd-Frank establishes an “Orderly Liquidation Authority” and in title II a “Single Point of Entry” by putting a holding company (topco) into receivership. The objective is to minimise disruption costs for large institutions, to preserve the going-concern value of the company and to avoid collateral damage. Single point of entry also helps resolve cross-border issues. No comparable institutional framework is available in the EU. In the crisis, US authorities implemented ad-hoc alternatives to bankruptcy: Mergers (which require the approval of shareholders and therefore make it hard to wipe out the target’s shareholders) worked for Bear Stearns (JPMorgan Chase, Maiden Lane, Fed) but not for Lehman Brothers (Barclays, Fed) because the UK authorities refused to waive Barclays shareholder approval, fearing fiscal implications. Recapitalisation with third party funds (Fed) in the case of AIG also required shareholder approval and protected creditors and counter-party claims.

Patrick Bolton cautioned that the rules for the topco are still not clear and discussed alternatives to Dodd-Frank in the bankruptcy code. He emphasised the role of qualified financial contracts and debtor-in-possession interventions.

Martin Hellwig argued that the government rescue of Hypo Real Estate reflected the political will to help influential creditors rather than systemic importance. He questioned the viability of single-point-of-entry arrangements in cross-border resolution, pointing to lack of trust among national regulators. He questioned whether internationally active banks can ever be resolved in an efficient manner and asked whether, in that light, they are socially valuable.

Mathias Dewatripont warned that excessive emphasis on bail-in arrangements can undermine financial stability, for example by having the expectation of a small haircut applied to senior debt tranches trigger a run on all senior debt. To avoid such an outcome, he favoured a clearly identified seniority structure with a significant balance-sheet share of “bail-inable” liabilities. He questioned the usefulness of higher capital requirements, arguing that “prompt corrective action” is politically infeasible unless the equity ratio has fallen below a very low value, 2 percent say.

Wolf-Georg Ringe favoured holding-company structures with sufficient “bail-inable” debt.

Paul Tucker discussed potential problems with the holding-company/single-point-of-entry strategy, related to centralised operations (IT). He raised the issue of accountability and the potential lack thereof if companies are resolved by regulators rather than judges, and he wondered whether national regulators can commit to collaborate across borders if need be. He favoured “bail-inable” debt over equity because the former gives incentives to monitor without the incentive to speculate on the upside.

Gerard Hertig warned that regulatory incentives lead to bank mergers rather than resolution, in particular because authorities tend to be more lenient in crisis times. He argued that because of deposit insurance, resolution worked well in Japan until recently.

Patrick Bolton argued that cocos are badly designed as their triggers are too low and they refer to accounting equity. Instead, he favoured reverse convertible bonds that can be converted by the issuer.

Oliver Hart argued that resolution has the advantage over cocos that the management gets replaced.

Many panelists voiced scepticism towards narrow banking proposals. They feared that control over the money supply might turn into control over credit, referring to the discussion in the US during the 1930s.

“Vollgeld, Liquidität und Stabilität (100% Money, Liquidity and Stability),” NZZ, 2014

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 12, 2014. PDF. Extended version in Ökonomenstimme, May 13, 2014. HTML.

  • A 100% money regime reduces the risk of credit bubbles, but requires more and better fine-tuning by the central bank.
  • Central banks can already implement higher reserve requirements. If the fact that they don’t reflects policy failure, then the 100% money proposal risks handing more power to one source of the problem.
  • A 100% money regime increases financial stability, at least temporarily, but it forces banks to find new sources of funding and lowers the interest rate for depositors, which is fine.
  • If lender of last resort support by the central bank occurs at too low interest rates then seignorage revenues are privatised and costs socialised under the current regime. Moving to a 100% money regime would help but so would simple Pigouvian taxation.
  • How can a 100% money regime be enforced if market participants end up coordinating to use other securities than deposits as means of payment?
  • More stable deposits in a 100% money regime do not imply a more stable banking system unless other regulation is imposed that completely prevents “maturity transformation.”
  • Aggregate liquidity cannot be created out of nothing, with or without deposit insurance.
  • Societies have to take a stand on whether they want to guarantee broader monetary aggregates than base money. If so, the cost of the guarantee should be privatised. Problems arise if societies pretend not to provide such guarantees but central banks nevertheless feel obliged to step in ex post and market participants are aware of that fact ex ante; bad, self-fulfilling equilibria are the consequence.
  • Commitment on the part of policy makers is key; it requires independent central bankers and regulators.

IMF Discussion Note on Banking Union in the Euro Area

Rishi Goyal, Petya Koeva Brooks, Mahmood Pradhan, Thierry Tressel, Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Ross Leckow, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu et al discuss the case for a banking union in the Euro area in an IMF Staff Discussion Note. The authors argue in favour of both a single supervisory-regulatory framework and a common resolution mechanism as well as safety net.

Iceland’s Deposit Insurance Found Non-Discriminatory

The Economist reports about an EFTA court decision concerning Iceland’s decision to discriminate among depositors after the collapse of Icesave, an online bank. The bank had collected deposits in the UK and the Netherlands, using a European “passport” which relied on the notion that the Icelandic deposit insurance scheme would back those deposits. After the collapse, the insurance turned out to be insufficient; while Icelandic savers received their money back, British and Dutch depositors did not. But eventually, their respective governments bailed them out—and now went to court.

… the court found that Iceland was obliged only to make sure that it had a deposit-insurance scheme. The state was not required to pay out if the scheme had no money because of a banking crisis. Oddly, the court also found that Iceland had not breached an obligation not to discriminate between domestic and foreign depositors, even though it made only the domestic ones whole.