Syndicate content

August 2010

Too Big to Fail, or Too Big to Save?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Too big to fail has become a key issue in financial regulation. Indeed, in the recent crisis many institutions enjoyed subsidies precisely because they were deemed “too big to fail” by policymakers. The expectation that large institutions will be bailed out by taxpayers any time they get into trouble makes the job of regulators all the more difficult. After all, if someone else will pay for the downside risks, institutions are likely to take on more risk and get into trouble more often—what economists call moral hazard. This makes reaching too-big-to-fail status a goal in itself for financial institutions, given the many implicit and explicit benefits governments are willing to extend to their large institutions. Hence, all the proposed legislation to tax away some of these benefits.

But could it be that some banks have actually become too big to save? Particularly for small countries or those suffering from deteriorating public finances, this is a valid question. The prime example is Iceland, where the liabilities of the overall banking system reached around 9 times GDP at the end of 2007, before a spectacular collapse of the banking system in 2008. By the end of 2008, the liabilities of publicly listed banks in Switzerland and the United Kingdom had reached 6.3 and 5.5 times their GDP, respectively.

In a recent paper with Harry Huizinga, we try to see whether market valuation of banks is sensitive to government indebtedness and deficits. If countries are financially strapped, markets may doubt countries’ ability to save their largest banks. At the very least, governments in this position may be forced to resolve bank failures in a relatively cheap way, implying large losses to bank creditors.

Low Cost Banking: How Retail Stores and Mobile Phones Can Transform Access to Finance

Ignacio Mas's picture

More than 3 billion people in the world today don’t have access to savings accounts. Many of these 3 billion fall below the less-than-$2-per-day benchmark of the world’s poorest people. Why are banks not doing a better job to help them manage their financial lives?

The problem is largely one of cost. Providing financial services to the poor is prohibitively expensive for banks. Each time a client stands in front a of a teller’s window it costs most banks from $1 to $3. If poor clients make transactions of $1 or $2, or even less, banks won’t be able to support the costs.

It’s also too costly for the poor. Most poor people, especially those in rural areas, live far away from bank branches. Let me give one example of a woman in Kenya. The nearest branch may be 10 kilometers away, but it takes her almost an hour to get there by foot and bus because she doesn’t have her own wheels. With waiting times at the branch, that’s a round-trip of two hours – a quarter or so of her working day gone.  While the bus fare is only 50 cents, that’s maybe one fifth of what she makes on an average day. So each banking transaction costs her the equivalent of almost half a day’s wages.

Making the Case for Financial Openness

Ryan Hahn's picture

Rich countries and emerging markets alike have participated in a rapid integration into global capital markets over the last 25 years. Proponents of financial globalization believed this would bring a myriad of benefits via improved financial intermediation, with a more efficient allocation of capital to productive firms and increased access to finance to those outside the halls of political power.

But the recent financial crisis has given pause to the pro-globalization advocates. The marked increase in capital flows to emerging markets quickly reversed in the wake of the financial crisis, leaving these countries looking vulnerable. Might the globalizers have gotten their prescriptions wrong?

A recent paper entitled Does Financial Openness Lead to Deeper Domestic Financial Markets? finds that, in fact, developing countries have reaped a number of benefits from financial globalization. In particular, the authors of the paper have found that greater financial openness:

The Fad of Financial Literacy?

Bilal Zia's picture

Financial literacy has become an immensely popular component of financial reform across the world. As a response to the recent financial crisis, the United States government set up the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy in January 2008, charged with promoting programs that improve financial education at all levels of the economy and helping increase access to financial services. In the developing world, the Indonesian government declared 2008 “the year of financial education,” with a stated goal of improving access to and use of financial services by increasing financial literacy. Similarly, in India, the Reserve Bank of India launched an initiative in 2007 to establish Financial Literacy and Credit Counseling Centers throughout the country which would offer free financial education and counseling to urban and rural populations. The World Bank also hasn’t been missing out on the trend – it recently approved a $15 million Trust Fund on Financial Literacy. 

But what do we know about financial literacy? Does it work, and if so, through what mechanisms? Despite the money being ploughed into financial literacy programs, we know very little to address these important questions. While it is true that there is a large and growing body of survey evidence from both developed and developing countries that demonstrate a strong association between financial literacy and household well-being, we are still in the process of learning whether this relationship is causal.

What Drives the Price of Remittances?: New Evidence Using the Remittance Prices Worldwide Database

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

Remittances to developing countries reached U.S. $338 billion in 2008, more than twice the amount of official aid and over half of foreign direct investment flows.1 Numerous studies have shown that remittances can have a positive and significant impact on many aspects of countries’ economic development. Hence, monitoring the market for remittance transactions has become critical for understanding the development process in many low-income countries.

Remittance transactions are known to be expensive. The Remittance Prices Worldwide database collected by the World Bank Payment Systems Group shows that, as of the first quarter of 2009, the cost of remittances averaged close to 10 percent of the amount sent.2 At the same time, the data also reveal a wide dispersion in the price of remittances across corridors, ranging from 2.5 percent to 26 percent of the amount sent (see Figure 1 below the jump).