the plan for the future
10 December 2019 (latest update: 26 September 2020)
In the past, the banking sector consisted of different types of banks depending on their risk profile. For instance, the Glass-Steagall Act in the United States severed linkages between commercial banking and investing activities that may have contributed to the 1929 market crash and the ensuing depression. Separating banking from investments can prevent banks from providing loans that would boost the prices of securities in which they have a stake.1
The separation of commercial and investment banking prevented securities firms and investment banks from taking deposits. It also barred commercial banks from dealing in non-governmental securities for customers, investing in non-investment grade securities for themselves, underwriting or distributing non-governmental securities, or affiliating with companies involved in such activities.2
The rationale for the separation was the conflict of interest that arose when banks invested in securities with their assets, which were their account holder's deposits. Banks were obliged to protect account holders and should not engage in speculative activities.2
The Glass-Steagall Act included the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which guaranteed bank deposits up to a specified limit. It also comprised Regulation Q, which prohibited banks from paying interest on demand deposits and capped interest rates on other deposit products.3 The rationale for maximising interest rates is that it can help to limit the risks banks are willing to take on loans.3
Until the 1980s, the legislation remained more or less the same. With the rise of neoliberalism, regulations became increasingly disapproved. Hence, the Glass-Steagall Act became increasingly disregarded. It became, for the most part, dismantled in 1999. Regulation Q ceilings for all account types, except demand deposits, were phased out during the 1980s. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, a renewed interest in the Glass-Steagall Act emerged.
Natural Money comes with a distinction like the Glass-Steagall Act and for similar reasons. The banking sector features regular banks that provide loans and investment banks that are partnerships investing in equity. Islamic banks operate in this way too. The maximum interest rate of zero works like Regulation Q. It aims to limit the risks banks are willing to take on deposits as interest is a reward for taking risks, and banks could offer higher rates on deposits if they take more risk.
In the United States, money market funds have found a way around the limits imposed on banks by Regulation Q. These money market funds offered fixed rates that were higher than banks could offer. They invested in collateralised debt obligations (CDO) like mortgage-backed securities (MBS). It is, therefore, not surprising that the financial crisis of 2008 started in the money market funds and not in traditional banks.
Banking with Natural Money is somewhat similar to the situation in the United States before the 1980s. It is to operate as follows:
Implementing Natural Money could improve financial stability as equity investments are favoured to debt investments. The maximum interest rate on debts makes debt investments less attractive. As interest is also a reward for risk, high risk debt could be phased out. The improved financial stability can make equity investments even more attractive so leverage may reduce even further and financial stability may improve even more.
Perhaps the biggest banks are too big to fail. Splitting them up can improve financial stability. Focussing on bank size alone however doesn't address other issues related to financial instability like risk profiles and risk not being transferred to investors who are taking it willingly. Regulations, compliance and competition in financial markets favour scale so that there may be a limit to splitting up financial institutions. Banks also face competition from payment providers like Paypal, Apple Pay or Google Pay. Small banks may find it increasingly difficult to survive in a globalised environment.
1. The Glass-Steagall Act. Will Kenton, reviewer (updated 5 December 2019). Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/ terms/g/glass_steagall_act.asp
2. Glass–Steagall legislation - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_legislation
3. Regulation Q. Will Kenton, reviewer (updated 1 November 2019). Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/ terms/r/regulationq.asp