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4.12: The Development of Modern Banking

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    6928
  • The Development of Modern Banking

    Early banking and monetary standards have experienced challenges and changes in the United States since the American Revolution. The fight over the concept of banks and whether or not it was allowed under the U.S. Constitution divided the nation over the role of banks, the printing of currency, counterfeiting, and the strength of a national currency.

    Universal Generalizations

    • The Federal Reserve System is privately owned but publicly controlled.
    • The Federal Reserve was established as the nation’s central bank to serve as a bank for banks, to regulate the banking industry, and to regulate the money supply.

    Guiding Questions

    1. What is the monetary policy?
    2. How does the FED use monetary policy to control the economy?
    3. What are the methods used by the Federal Reserve to expand and contract the money supply? Explain each method.
    4. What other kinds of depository institutions do we have in addition to banks?
    5. How is a bank different from a savings and loan or a credit union?

    The Role of Banks

    The late bank robber named Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks. He answered: “That’s where the money is.” While this may have been true at one time, from the perspective of modern economists, Sutton is both right and wrong. He is wrong because the overwhelming majority of money in the economy is not in the form of currency sitting in vaults or drawers at banks waiting for a robber to appear. Most money is in the form of bank accounts, which exist only as electronic records on computers. From a broader perspective, however, the bank robber was more right than he may have known. Banking is intimately interconnected with money and consequently, with the broader economy.

    Banks make it far easier for a complex economy to carry out the extraordinary range of transactions that occur in goods, labor, and financial capital markets. Imagine for a moment what the economy would be like if all payments had to be made in cash. When shopping for a large purchase or going on vacation you might need to carry hundreds of dollars in a pocket or purse. Even small businesses would need stockpiles of cash to pay workers and to purchase supplies. A bank allows people and businesses to store this money in either a checking account or savings account, for example, and then withdraw this money as needed through the use of a direct withdrawal, writing a check, or using a debit card.

    Banks are a critical intermediary in what is called the payment system, which helps an economy exchange goods and services for money or other financial assets. Also, those with extra money that they would like to save can store their money in a bank rather than look for an individual that is willing to borrow it from them and then repay them at a later date. Those who want to borrow money can go directly to a bank rather than trying to find someone to lend them cash. Transaction costs are the costs associated with finding a lender or a borrower for this money. Thus, banks lower transactions costs and act as financial intermediaries—they bring savers and borrowers together. Along with making transactions much safer and easier, banks also play a key role in the creation of money.

    Other Types of Depository Institutions

    Commercial banks were established to assist businesses and commerce early in this nation's history since they made it possible for businesses to complete financial transactions in a safe manner. They had the ability to issue checks and pay business expenses. Another type of account is a "thrift account," which was set up in the 1970s for individuals to have demand deposit accounts so that they could also write checks. Today checking accounts or demand deposit accounts allow for funds to be removed by writing a check without prior approval from the depository institutions.

    Savings banks began in the late 1700s to fill the need for individuals to have a place to keep their money. By the 1800s, other banks were created to compete with commercial and savings banks, such as savings and loan associations (S&L) which were created by builders. A S&L invests its funds in home mortgages, and investors take turns borrowing the money to build a home.

    A modern development has been the credit union, which is a nonprofit service cooperative that is owned by and operated for the benefit of its members. Most credit unions are organized around an employer or a specific industry, such as the El Paso Area Teacher's Union, the Government Employees Credit Union (GECU) or Navy Federal Credit Union (military). These financial institutions generally give better rates for loans and savings accounts for their members.

    Banks as Financial Intermediaries

    An “intermediary” is one who stands between two other parties. Banks are a financial intermediary—that is, an institution that operates between a saver who deposits money in a bank and a borrower who receives a loan from that bank. Financial intermediaries include other institutions in the financial market such as insurance companies and pension funds, but they will not be included in this discussion because they are not considered to be depository institutions, which are institutions that accept money deposits and then use these to make loans. All the funds deposited are mingled in one big pool, which is then loaned out. Figure 1 illustrates the position of banks as financial intermediaries, with deposits flowing into a bank and loans flowing out. Of course, when banks make loans to firms, the banks will try to funnel financial capital to healthy businesses that have good prospects for repaying the loans, not to firms that are suffering losses and may be unable to repay.

    Banks as Financial Intermediaries

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    Banks act as financial intermediaries because they stand between savers and borrowers. Savers place deposits with banks, and then receive interest payments and withdraw money. Borrowers receive loans from banks and repay the loans with interest. In turn, banks return money to savers in the form of withdrawals, which also include interest payments from banks to savers.

    Bank Regulation

    A safe and stable national financial system is a critical concern of the Federal Reserve. The goal is not only to protect individuals’ savings, but to protect the integrity of the financial system itself. This esoteric task is usually behind the scenes, but came into view during the 2008–2009 financial crisis, when for a brief period of time, critical parts of the financial system failed and firms became unable to obtain financing for ordinary parts of their business. Imagine if suddenly you were unable to access the money in your bank accounts because your checks were not accepted for payment and your debit cards were declined. This example gives an idea of what a failure of the payments/financial system is like.

    Bank regulation is intended to maintain the solvency of banks by avoiding excessive risk. Regulation falls into a number of categories, including reserve requirements, capital requirements, and restrictions on the types of investments banks may make. In a previous section, we learned that banks are required to hold a minimum percentage of their deposits on hand as reserves. “On hand” is a bit of a misnomer because, while a portion of bank reserves are held as cash in the bank, the majority are held in the bank’s account at the Federal Reserve, and their purpose is to cover desired withdrawals by depositors. Another part of bank regulation is restrictions on the types of investments banks are allowed to make. Banks are allowed to make loans to businesses, individuals, and other banks. They are allowed to purchase U.S. Treasury securities but, to protect depositors, they are not permitted to invest in the stock market or other assets that are perceived as too risky.

    Bank capital is the difference between a bank’s assets and its liabilities. In other words, it is a bank’s net worth. A bank must have positive net worth; otherwise it is insolvent or bankrupt, meaning it would not have enough assets to pay back its liabilities. Regulation requires that banks maintain a minimum net worth, usually expressed as a percent of their assets, to protect their depositors and other creditors.

    Bank Supervision

    Several government agencies monitor the balance sheets of banks to make sure they have positive net worth and are not taking too high a level of risk. Within the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has a national staff of bank examiners who conduct on-site reviews of the 1,500 or so of the largest national banks. The bank examiners also review any foreign banks that have branches in the United States. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also monitors and regulates about 800 savings and loan institutions.

    The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) supervises credit unions, which are nonprofit banks owned and run by their members. There are over 10,000 credit unions in the U.S. economy, though the typical credit union is small compared to most banks.

    The Federal Reserve also has some responsibility for supervising financial institutions. For example, conglomerate firms that own banks and other businesses are called “bank holding companies.” While other regulators like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency supervises the banks, the Federal Reserve supervises the holding companies.

    When the supervision of banks (and bank-like institutions such as savings and loans and credit unions) works well, most banks will remain financially healthy most of the time. If the bank supervisors find that a bank has low or negative net worth, or is making too high a proportion of risky loans, they can require that the bank change its behavior—or, in extreme cases, even force the bank to be closed or sold to a financially healthy bank.

    Bank supervision can run into both practical and political questions. The practical question is that measuring the value of a bank’s assets is not always straightforward. A bank’s assets are its loans, and the value of these assets depends on estimates about the risk that these loans will not be repaid. These issues can become even more complex when a bank makes loans to banks or firms in other countries or arranges financial deals that are much more complex than a basic loan.

    The political question arises because the decision by a bank supervisor to require a bank to close or to change its financial investments is often controversial, and the bank supervisor often comes under political pressure from the owners of the bank and the local politicians to keep quiet and back off.

    For example, many observers have pointed out that Japan’s banks were in deep financial trouble through most of the 1990s; however, nothing substantial had been done about it by the early 2000s. A similar unwillingness to confront problems with struggling banks is visible across the rest of the world, in East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia, and elsewhere.

    In the United States, laws were passed in the 1990s requiring that bank supervisors make their findings open and public and that they act as soon as a problem is identified. However, as many U.S. banks were staggered by the recession of 2008–2009, critics of the bank regulators asked pointed questions about why the regulators had not foreseen the financial shakiness of the banks earlier before such large losses had a chance to accumulate.

    Bank Runs

    Back in the nineteenth-century and during the first few decades of the twentieth century (around and during the Great Depression), putting your money in a bank could be nerve-wracking. Imagine that the net worth of your bank became negative, so that the bank’s assets were not enough to cover its liabilities. In this situation, whoever withdrew their deposits first received all of their money. Those who did not rush to the bank quickly enough lost their money. Depositors racing to the bank to withdraw their deposits is called a bank run. In the movie "It’s a Wonderful Life", the bank manager, played by Jimmy Stewart, faces a mob of worried bank depositors who want to withdraw their money, but manages to allay their fears by allowing some of them to withdraw a portion of their deposits—using the money from his own pocket that was supposed to pay for his honeymoon.

    Video: It's a Wonderful Life Bank Run

    The risk of bank runs created instability in the banking system. Even a rumor that a bank might experience negative net worth could trigger a bank run and, in a bank run, even healthy banks could be destroyed. Because a bank will loan out most of the money it receives, and because it keeps only limited reserves on hand, a bank run of any size would quickly drain any of the bank’s available cash. When the bank had no cash left, it only intensified the fears of remaining depositors that they could lose their money. Moreover, a bank run at one bank often triggered a chain reaction of runs on other banks. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, bank runs were typically not the original cause of a recession—but they could make a recession much worse.

    Deposit Insurance

    To protect against bank runs, Congress has put two strategies into place: deposit insurance and the lender of last resort. Deposit insurance is an insurance system that makes sure depositors in a bank do not lose their money, even if the bank goes bankrupt. About 70 countries around the world, including all of the major economies, have deposit insurance programs. In the United States, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is responsible for deposit insurance. Banks pay an insurance premium to the FDIC. The insurance premium is based on the bank’s level of deposits and then adjusted according to the riskiness of a bank’s financial situation. In 2009, for example, a fairly safe bank with a high net worth might have paid 10–20 cents in insurance premiums for every $100 in bank deposits, while a risky bank with very low net worth might have paid 50–60 cents for every $100 in bank deposits.

    Bank examiners from the FDIC evaluate the balance sheets of banks, looking at the value of assets and liabilities to determine the level of riskiness. The FDIC provides deposit insurance for about 8,200 banks. Even if a bank fails, the government guarantees that depositors will receive up to $250,000 of their money in each account, which is enough for almost all individuals, although not sufficient for many businesses. Since the United States enacted deposit insurance in the 1930s, no one has lost any of their insured deposits. Bank runs no longer happen at insured banks.

    Lender of Last Resort

    The problem with bank runs is not that insolvent banks will fail; they are, after all, bankrupt and need to be shut down. The problem is that bank runs can cause solvent banks to fail and spread to the rest of the financial system. To prevent this, the Fed stands ready to lend to banks and other financial institutions when they cannot obtain funds from anywhere else. This is known as the lender of last resort role. For banks, the central bank acting as a lender of last resort helps to reinforce the effect of deposit insurance and to reassure bank customers that they will not lose their money.

    The lender of last resort task can come up in other financial crises, as well. During the panic of the stock market crash in 1987, when the value of U.S. stocks fell by 25% in a single day, the Federal Reserve made a number of short-term emergency loans, so the financial system could keep functioning. During the recession of 2008–2009, the “quantitative easing” policies (discussed below) of the Federal Reserve can be interpreted as a willingness to make short-term credit available as needed in a time when the banking and financial system was under stress.

    A bank run occurs when there are rumors (possibly true, possibly false) that a bank is at financial risk of having negative net worth. As a result, depositors rush to the bank to withdraw their money and put it someplace safer. Even false rumors, if they cause a bank run, can force a healthy bank to lose its deposits and be forced to close. Deposit insurance guarantees bank depositors that, even if the bank has negative net worth, their deposits will be protected. In the United States, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) collects deposit insurance premiums from banks and guarantees bank deposits up to $250,000. Bank supervision involves inspecting the balance sheets of banks to make sure that they have positive net worth and that their assets are not too risky. In the United States, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is responsible for supervising banks and inspecting savings and loans and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is responsible for inspecting credit unions. The FDIC and the Federal Reserve also play a role in bank supervision.

    When a central bank acts as a lender of last resort, it makes short-term loans available in situations of severe financial panic or stress. The failure of a single bank can be treated like any other business failure. Yet if many banks fail, it can reduce aggregate demand in a way that can bring on or deepen a recession. The combination of deposit insurance, bank supervision, and lender of last resort policies help to prevent weaknesses in the banking system from causing recessions.

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    How are Banks, Savings and Loans, and Credit Unions Related?

    Banks have a couple of close cousins: savings institutions and credit unions. Banks, as explained, receive deposits from individuals and businesses and make loans with the money. Savings institutions are also sometimes called “savings and loans” or “thrifts.” They also take loans and make deposits. However, from the 1930s until the 1980s, federal law limited how much interest savings institutions were allowed to pay to depositors. They were also required to make most of their loans in the form of housing-related loans, either to home buyers or to real-estate developers and builders.

    A credit union is a nonprofit financial institution that its members own and run. Members of each credit union decide who is eligible to be a member. Usually, potential members would be everyone in a certain community, or groups of employees, or members of a certain organization. The credit union accepts deposits from members and focuses on making loans back to its members. While there are more credit unions than banks and more banks than savings and loans, the total assets of credit unions are growing.

    In 2008, there were 7,085 banks. Due to the bank failures of 2007–2009 and bank mergers, there were 5,844 banks in the United States at the end of the third quarter in 2013. According to Bankrate, there were 7,351 credit unions in the United States in 2012 with average assets of $20 million. A day of “Transfer Your Money” took place in 2009 out of general public disgust with big bank bailouts. People were encouraged to transfer their deposits to credit unions. This has grown into the ongoing Move Your Money Project. Consequently, some now hold deposits as large as $50 million. However, as of 2013, the 12 largest banks (0.2%) controlled 69 percent of all banking assets, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve.

    A Bank’s Balance Sheet

    A balance sheet is an accounting tool that lists assets and liabilities. An asset is something of value that is owned and can be used to produce something. For example, the cash you own can be used to pay your tuition. If you own a home, this is also considered an asset. A liability is a debt or something you owe. Many people borrow money to buy homes. In this case, a home is an asset, but the mortgage is the liability. The net worth is the asset value minus how much is owed (the liability). A bank’s balance sheet operates in much the same way. A bank’s net worth is also referred to as bank capital. A bank has assets such as cash held in its vaults, monies that the bank holds at the Federal Reserve bank (called “reserves”), loans that are made to customers, and bonds.

    Figure 3 illustrates a hypothetical and simplified balance sheet for the Safe and Secure Bank. Because of the two-column format of the balance sheet, with the T-shape formed by the vertical line down the middle and the horizontal line under “Assets” and “Liabilities,” it is sometimes called a T-account.

    A Balance Sheet for the Safe and Secure Bank

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    The “T” in a T-account separates the assets of a firm, on the left, from its liabilities, on the right. All firms use T-accounts, though most are much more complex. For a bank, the assets are the financial instruments that either the bank is holding (its reserves) or those instruments where other parties owe money to the bank—like loans made by the bank and U.S. Government Securities, such as U.S. treasury bonds purchased by the bank. Liabilities are what the bank owes to others. Specifically, the bank owes any deposits made in the bank to those who have made them. The net worth of the bank is the total assets minus total liabilities. Net worth is included on the liabilities side to have the T account balance to zero. For a healthy business, net worth will be positive. For a bankrupt firm, net worth will be negative. In either case, on a bank’s T-account, assets will always equal liabilities plus net worth.

    When bank customers deposit money into a checking account, savings account, or a certificate of deposit, the bank views these deposits as liabilities. After all, the bank owes these deposits to its customers, when the customers wish to withdraw their money. In the example shown in Figure 3, the Safe and Secure Bank holds $10 million in deposits.

    Loans are the first category of bank assets shown in Figure 3. Say that a family takes out a 30-year mortgage loan to purchase a house. This means that the borrower will repay the loan over the next 30 years. This loan is clearly an asset from the bank’s perspective because the borrower has a legal obligation to make payments to the bank over time. But in practical terms, how can the value of the mortgage loan that is being paid over 30 years be measured in the present? One way of measuring the value of something—whether a loan or anything else—is by estimating what another party in the market is willing to pay for it. Many banks issue home loans and charge various handling and processing fees for doing so, but then sell the loans to other banks or financial institutions who collect the loan payments. The market where loans are made to borrowers is called the primary loan market, while the market in which these loans are bought and sold by financial institutions is the secondary loan market.

    One key factor that affects what financial institutions are willing to pay for a loan, when they buy it in the secondary loan market, is the perceived riskiness of the loan: that is, given the characteristics of the borrower, such as income level and whether the local economy is performing strongly, what proportion of loans of this type will be repaid? The greater the risk that a loan will not be repaid, the less that any financial institution will pay to acquire the loan. Another key factor is to compare the interest rate charged on the original loan with the current interest rate in the economy. If the original loan made at some point in the past requires the borrower to pay a low-interest rate, but current interest rates are relatively high, then a financial institution will pay less to acquire the loan. In contrast, if the original loan requires the borrower to pay a high-interest rate, while current interest rates are relatively low, then a financial institution will pay more to acquire the loan. For the Safe and Secure Bank in this example, the total value of its loans if they were sold to other financial institutions in the secondary market is $5 million.

    The second category of bank asset is bonds, which are a common mechanism for borrowing used by the federal and local government, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. A bank takes some of the money it has received in deposits and uses the money to buy bonds—typically bonds issued by the U.S. government. Government bonds are low-risk because the government is virtually certain to pay off the bond, albeit at a low rate of interest. These bonds are an asset for banks in the same way that loans are an asset: The bank will receive a stream of payments in the future. In our example, the Safe and Secure Bank holds bonds worth a total value of $4 million.

    The final entry under assets is reserves, which is money that the bank keeps on hand, and that is not loaned out or invested in bonds—and thus does not lead to interest payments. The Federal Reserve requires that banks keep a certain percentage of depositors’ money on “reserve,” which means either in their vaults or kept at the Federal Reserve Bank. This is called a reserve requirement. Additionally, banks may also want to keep a certain amount of reserves on hand in excess of what is required. The Safe and Secure Bank is holding $2 million in reserves.

    The net worth of a bank is defined as its total assets minus its total liabilities. For the Safe and Secure Bank shown in Figure 3, net worth is equal to $1 million; that is, $11 million in assets minus $10 million in liabilities. For a financially healthy bank, the net worth will be positive. If a bank has negative net worth and depositors tried to withdraw their money, the bank would not be able to give all depositors their money.

    How Banks Go Bankrupt

    A bank that is bankrupt will have a negative net worth, meaning its assets will be worth less than its liabilities. How can this happen? Again, looking at the balance sheet helps to explain.

    A well-run bank will assume that a small percentage of borrowers will not repay their loans on time, or at all, and factor these missing payments into its planning. Remember, the calculations of the expenses of banks every year includes a factor for loans that are not repaid, and the value of a bank’s loans on its balance sheet assumes a certain level of riskiness because some loans will not be repaid. Even if a bank expects a certain number of loan defaults, it will suffer if the number of loan defaults is much greater than expected, as can happen during a recession. For example, if the Safe and Secure Bank in Figure 3 experienced a wave of unexpected defaults so that its loans declined in value from $5 million to $3 million, then the assets of the Safe and Secure Bank would decline so that the bank had negative net worth.

    Video: Why are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Important?

    What Led to the Financial Crisis of 2008-2009?

    Many banks make mortgage loans so that people can buy a home, but then do not keep the loans on their books as an asset. Instead, the bank sells the loan. These loans are “securitized,” which means that they are bundled together into a financial security that is sold to investors. Investors in these mortgage-backed securities receive a rate of return based on the level of payments that people make on all the mortgages that stand behind the security.

    Securitization offers certain advantages. If a bank makes most of its loans in a local area, then the bank may be financially vulnerable if the local economy declines so that many people are unable to make their payments. If a bank sells its local loans, and then buys a mortgage-backed security based on home loans in many parts of the country, it can avoid being exposed to local financial risks. (In the simple example in the text, banks just own “bonds.” In reality, banks can own a number of financial instruments, as long as these financial investments are safe enough to satisfy the government bank regulators.) From the standpoint of a local homebuyer, securitization offers the benefit that a local bank does not need to have lots of extra funds to make a loan, because the bank is only planning to hold that loan for a short time, before selling the loan so that it can be pooled into a financial security.

    Securitization also offers one potentially large disadvantage. If a bank is going to hold a mortgage loan as an asset, the bank has an incentive to scrutinize the borrower carefully to ensure that the loan is likely to be repaid. However, a bank that is going to sell the loan may be less careful in making the loan in the first place. The bank will be more willing to make what are called “subprime loans,” which are loans that have characteristics like low or zero down-payment, little scrutiny of whether the borrower has a reliable income, and sometimes low payments for the first year or two that will be followed by much higher payments after that. Some subprime loans made in the mid-2000s were later dubbed NINJA loans: loans made even though the borrower had demonstrated No Income, No Job, or Assets.

    These subprime loans were typically sold and turned into financial securities—but with a twist. The idea was that if losses occurred on these mortgage-backed securities, certain investors would agree to take the first, say, 5% of such losses. Other investors would agree to take, say, the next 5% of losses. By this approach, still other investors would not need to take any losses unless these mortgage-backed financial securities lost 25% or 30% or more of their total value. These complex securities, along with other economic factors, encouraged a large expansion of subprime loans in the mid-2000s.

    The economic stage was now set for a banking crisis. Banks thought they were buying only ultra-safe securities because even though the securities were ultimately backed by risky subprime mortgages, the banks only invested in the part of those securities where they were protected from small or moderate levels of losses. But as housing prices fell after 2007, and the deepening recession made it harder for many people to make their mortgage payments, many banks found that their mortgage-backed financial assets could end up being worth much less than they had expected—and so the banks were staring bankruptcy in the face. In the 2008–2011 period, 318 banks failed in the United States.

    The risk of an unexpectedly high level of loan defaults can be especially difficult for banks because a bank’s liabilities, namely the deposits of its customers, can be withdrawn quickly, but many of the bank’s assets like loans and bonds will only be repaid over years or even decades. This asset-liability time mismatch—a bank’s liabilities can be withdrawn in the short term while its assets are repaid in the long term—can cause severe problems for a bank. For example, imagine a bank that has loaned a substantial amount of money at a certain interest rate, but then sees interest rates rise substantially. The bank can find itself in a precarious situation. If it does not raise the interest rate it pays to depositors, then deposits will flow to other institutions that offer the higher interest rates that are now prevailing. However, if the bank raises the interest rates that it pays to depositors, it may end up in a situation where it is paying a higher interest rate to depositors than it is collecting from those past loans that were made at lower interest rates. Clearly, the bank cannot survive in the long term if it is paying out more in interest to depositors than it is receiving from borrowers.

    How can banks protect themselves against an unexpectedly high rate of loan defaults and against the risk of an asset-liability time mismatch? One strategy is for a bank to diversify its loans, which means lending to a variety of customers. For example, suppose a bank specialized in lending to a niche market—say, making a high proportion of its loans to construction companies that build offices in one downtown area. If that one area suffers an unexpected economic downturn, the bank will suffer large losses. However, if a bank loans both to consumers who are buying homes and cars and also to a wide range of firms in many industries and geographic areas, the bank is less exposed to risk. When a bank diversifies its loans, those categories of borrowers who have an unexpectedly large number of defaults will tend to be balanced out, according to random chance, by other borrowers who have an unexpectedly low number of defaults. Thus, diversification of loans can help banks to keep a positive net worth. However, if a widespread recession occurs that touches many industries and geographic areas, diversification will not help.

    Along with diversifying their loans, banks have several other strategies to reduce the risk of an unexpectedly large number of loan defaults. For example, banks can sell some of the loans they make in the secondary loan market, as described earlier, and instead, hold a greater share of assets in the form of government bonds or reserves. Nevertheless, in a lengthy recession, most banks will see their net worth decline because a higher share of loans will not be repaid in tough economic times.

    Banks facilitate the use of money for transactions in the economy because people and firms can use bank accounts when selling or buying goods and services, when paying a worker or being paid, and when saving money or receiving a loan. In the financial capital market, banks are financial intermediaries; that is, they operate between savers who supply financial capital and borrowers who demand loans. A balance sheet (sometimes called a T-account) is an accounting tool which lists assets in one column and liabilities in another column. The liabilities of a bank are its deposits. The assets of a bank include its loans, its ownership of bonds, and its reserves (which are not loaned out). The net worth of a bank is calculated by subtracting the bank’s liabilities from its assets. Banks run a risk of negative net worth if the value of their assets declines. The value of assets can decline because of an unexpectedly high number of defaults on loans, or if interest rates rise and the bank suffers an asset-liability time mismatch in which the bank is receiving a low rate of interest on its long-term loans but must pay the currently higher market rate of interest to attract depositors. Banks can protect themselves against these risks by choosing to diversify their loans or to hold a greater proportion of their assets in bonds and reserves. If banks hold only a fraction of their deposits as reserves, then the process of banks’ lending money, those loans being re-deposited in banks, and the banks making additional loans will create money in the economy.

    For an additional article on banks and banking follow the link to Banks: Why Too-Big-To-Fail Is Not Over.

    3553678-1555188625-1226711-74-questionsmall.pngAnswer the self check questions below to monitor your understanding of the concepts in this section.

    Self Check Questions

    1. What is the Federal Reserve System? What is its role?
    2. What does the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) do?
    3. List other types of depository institutions.
    Image Reference Attributions
    CNX_Econ_C27_002.jpg [Figure 1] Credit: Justin Murphy;OpenStax College;Lumen Learning
    Source: https://goo.gl/images/S525UD ; https://cnx.org/contents/aWGdK2jw@11.73:jDBBHAWI@5/The-Role-of-Banks#CNX_Econ_C27_002 ; https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-macroeconomics/chapter/how-banks-create-money/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0
    3553678-1527442432-24-100-banks-and-credit-union.jpg [Figure 2] Credit: Justin Murphy
    Source: https://goo.gl/images/S525UD
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0
    575854-1433729085-3-14-blob.png [Figure 3] Credit: Justin Murphy;OpenStax College;Lumen Learning
    Source: https://goo.gl/images/S525UD ; https://cnx.org/contents/aWGdK2jw@11.73:jDBBHAWI@5/The-Role-of-Banks#CNX_Econ_C27_002 ; https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-macroeconomics/chapter/how-banks-create-money/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0
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