In its April 2017 Quarterly Report, the Deutsche Bundesbank discusses the role of banks in the creation of money. Findings from a wavelet analysis indicate that in Germany, money and credit move in parallel in the long run.
In an appendix, the report mentions possible welfare costs of curbing maturity transformation, with reference to Diamond and Dybvig’s work. This is not convincing. Unlike in the typical (microeconomic) banking model, aggregate central bank provided money need not be scarce, so there is no a priori social need for the private sector to create money.
In his blog, John Cochrane points to SoFi, a FinTech company, as proof that banking services can be delivered by institutions without the traditional characteristics of a bank.
SoFi finances loans by selling equity. The loans are securitized and the cash is reinvested in loans. As John points out:
A “bank” (in the economic, not legal sense) can finance loans, raising money essentially all from equity and no conventional debt. And it can offer competitive borrowing rates — the supposedly too-high “cost of equity” is illusory.
There is no necessary link between the business of taking and servicing deposits and that of making loans. Banks need not (try to) “transform” maturity or risk.
To the extent that the bank wants to boost up the risk and return of its equity, it can do so by securitizing loans rather than by borrowing. (Securitized loans are not leverage — there is no promise of your money back when you want it. Investors bear any losses immediately and without recourse.)
Equity-financed banking can emerge without new regulations, or a big new Policy Initiative. It’s enough to have relief from old regulations (“FDIC-free”).
Since it makes no fixed-value promises, this structure is essentially run free and can’t cause or contribute to a financial crisis.
In his FT blog, Larry Summers argues for a “quite radical” change in government debt-management. He proposes several lessons:
“Debt management is too important to leave to Federal debt managers and certainly to leave to the dealer community. … when interest rates are near zero, it has direct implications for monetary and fiscal policy and economic performance … and … financial stability.”
“… it is fairly crazy for the Fed and Treasury, which are supposed to serve the national interest, to pursue diametrically opposed debt-management policies. This is what has happened in recent years, with the Fed seeking to shorten outstanding maturities and the Treasury seeking to term them out.”
“Standard discussions of quantitative easing … are intellectually incoherent. It is the total impact of government activities on the stock of debt that the public must hold that should impact on financial markets.”
In the US, “the quantity of long-term debt that the markets had to absorb in recent years was well above, rather than below, normal. This suggests that if QE was important in reducing rates or raising asset values it was because of signalling effects … not because of the direct effect of Fed purchases.”
“The standard mantra that federal debt-management policies should seek to minimise government borrowing costs is … wrong and incomplete. … it is risk-adjusted expected costs that should be considered. … it is hard to see why the effects of debt policies on levels of demand and on financial stability should be ignored.”
“The tax-smoothing aspect, which is central to academic theories of debt policy, is of trivial significance.”
Rather than providing opportunities for carry trade, “[t]reasury should reverse the trend towards terming out the debt. Issuing shorter term debt would also help meet private demands for liquid short-term instruments without encouraging risky structures such as banks engaged in maturity transformation.”
“Institutional mechanisms should be found to insure that in the future the Fed and Treasury are not pushing debt durations in opposite directions.”
George Pennacchi discusses narrow banking in an article in the Annual Review of Financial Economics. He concludes as follows:
During the nineteenth century, US banks were more narrow than they are today, and the narrowest (e.g., those under the Louisiana Banking Act of 1842) appeared resistant to panics. Common modern-banking practices, such as maturity transformation and explicit loan commitments, arose only after the creation of the Federal Reserve and the FDIC.
… There appears to be little or no benefits available from traditional banks that could not be obtained in a carefully designed narrow bank financial system. Most importantly, a narrow-banking system could have huge advantages in containing moral hazard and reducing the overall risk and required regulation of the financial system.
In contrast, the reaction by US regulators to the recent financial crisis was to expand the government’s safety net by raising deposit insurance limits and by giving more financial firms access to insured deposits. Expanding, rather than narrowing, the activities that are funded with insured deposits is justified if one believes that regulation can contain moral hazard when firms have many, complex risk-taking opportunities. Unfortunately, this belief appears dubious if one recognizes that regulators face political and information constraints.
In my view, there is a need for research that considers the optimal design of a financial system when a government regulator is limited in its ability to assess risk. … Research needs to better identify those financial services where government support would produce a net social benefit. Services such as maturity transformation and liquidity insurance may not deserve costly government guarantees. Finally, should further research support the general concept of narrow banking, there are still open questions regarding the specific features of these banks. In particular, how narrow should be these banks’ assets and should their liabilities should be deposits or equity shares (at fixed or floating NAVs) are questions that need better answers.