Tag Archives: The Narrow Bank USA

A Financial System Built on Bail-Outs?

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece and an accompanying paper and blog post, John Cochrane and Amit Seru argue that vested interests prevent change towards a simpler, better-working financial system. They describe various “bail-outs” since 2020, in the U.S. financial sector and elsewhere. They point out that in Switzerland, too, the government orchestrated takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS relied on taxpayer support. And they conclude that regulatory measures after the great financial crisis including the implementation of the Dodd-Frank act failed. Instead, Cochrane and Seru favor narrow banking (they prefer to call it “equity-financed banking and narrow deposit-taking”):

Our basic financial regulatory architecture allows a fragile and highly leveraged financial system but counts on regulators and complex rules to spot and contain risk. That basic architecture has suffered an institutional failure. And nobody has the decency to apologize, to investigate, to talk about constraining incentives, or even to promise “never again.” The institutions pat themselves on the back for saving the world. They want to expand the complex rule book with the “Basel 3 endgame” having nothing to do with recent failures, regulate a fanciful “climate risk to the financial system,” and bail out even more next time.

But the government’s ability to borrow or print money without inflation is finite, as we have recently seen. When the next crisis comes, the U.S. may simply be unable to bail out an even more fragile financial system.

The solution is straightforward. Risky bank investments must be financed by equity and long-term debt, as they are in the private credit market. Deposits must be funneled narrowly to reserves or short-term Treasurys. Then banks can’t fail or suffer runs. All of this can be done without government regulation to assess asset risk. We’ve understood this system for a century. The standard objections have been answered. The Fed could simply stop blocking run-proof institutions from emerging, as it did with its recent denial of the Narrow Bank’s request for a master account.

Dodd-Frank’s promise to end bailouts has failed. Inflation shows us that the government is near its limit to borrow or print money to fund bailouts. Fortunately, plans for a bailout-free financial system are sitting on the shelf. They need only the will to overcome the powerful interests that benefit from the current system.

The Board of Governors Prepares to Fight ‘The Narrow Bank’

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is requesting comment on the proposal to lower the interest rate on excess balances of eligible institutions that hold a very large proportion of their assets in the form of reserves—i.e., on balances of ‘The Narrow Bank.’

The document states that

[t]he Board is concerned that [Pass-Through Investment Entities] PTIEs, by maintaining all or substantially all of their assets in the form of balances at Reserve Banks and having the ability to attract very large quantities of deposits at a near-IOER rate, have the potential to complicate the implementation of monetary policy.