Approximately 50 percent of the global adult population - or 2.5 billion people - are excluded from the formal financial system. Who are the unbanked? The vast majority of these adults are concentrated in the developing world - only a third of South Asians, a quarter of Sub-Saharan Africans, and less than a fifth of Middle-Easterners and North Africans have an account at a formal financial institution (Demirguc-Kunt & Klapper, 2012). Why are these people unbanked? A shortage of money, excessive cost, distance to a bank, and documentation requirements are reported by the unbanked themselves as the main barriers to financial access.
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, there has been much criticism of compensation practices at banks. Although much of this debate has focused on executive compensation (see the recent debate on this blog), there is a growing recognition that non-equity incentives for loan officers and other employees at the lower tiers of a bank’s corporate hierarchy may share some of the blame — volume incentives for mortgage brokers in the United States that rewarded high-risk lending at wildly unsustainable terms are a particularly striking case in point.
The impact of bank competition on financial markets and firms is an important topic of concern for policymakers and researchers alike. Interest in this topic intensified during the recent global financial crisis as researchers and policymakers questioned whether high competition was partly to blame.1 Those against bank competition make two main arguments. First, competition may lead to risky lending practices as financial institutions search for higher margins. The increase in subprime lending is an example of such behavior prior to the recent crisis. Second, higher competition may erode banks’ profit margins and leave them with insufficient capital cushions, something that also played a role in the recent crisis. On the other hand, those in favor of competition argue that it can improve access to finance, especially for small and medium enterprises, and that any negative effects on stability are better addressed by proper regulation and supervision of financial institutions.
The past two decades have seen a large increase in foreign bank entry across the globe, a trend that has been especially strong in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe and in Latin America. The effects of foreign bank participation on lending to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been a controversial issue among academics and policy makers alike. Critical issues in this debate have been different clienteles and lending techniques of domestic and foreign banks. Most prominently, Mian (2006) shows that clients of foreign banks in Pakistan are of larger size, more transparent, in larger cities and more likely to be foreign-owned, inferring from that the lending techniques foreign banks apply. This analysis, however, confounds two effects – differences in clientele and differences in lending techniques. Do foreign banks use different lending techniques because they have different clienteles or do they use different lending techniques even for the same customers of domestic banks? In recent work with my Tilburg colleagues Vasso Ioannidou and Larissa Schäfer, we use data from the Bolivian credit registry and focus on a sample of firms that borrow from domestic and foreign banks in the same month to isolate the effects of different lending techniques of banks of different ownership (Beck, Ioannidou and Schäfer, 2012).
In a recent paper, George Clarke, Gregory Kisunko and I use data from firms in Eastern Europe, a region that was especially hard hit by the global financial crisis, to study which firms survived and how they did it. Our first data source is a panel of firms from 23 countries that were interviewed in 2002, 2005, and 2008-9 as part of the Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Surveys (BEEPS). It allows us to document how financial constraints evolved over time and to see how firm and country characteristics affected those constraints during the crisis. The second dataset, from the Financial Crisis Surveys (FCS) that were conducted as follow-ups to the BEEPS in six countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Turkey) in 2009, allows us to look at how changes in access to financing affected firm survival rates during the crisis.