A recession is a difficult time to start a business. Credit is tight, consumers are wary, and the future appears uncertain. It seems logical that entrepreneurs would have been deterred from starting a new business during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, but how widespread was this phenomenon, and are there signs that new firm creation has begun to recover? The 2012 Entrepreneurship Database released today provides a novel look at these trends.
The Eurozone crisis has gone through its fair share of buzz words — fiscal compact, growth compact, Big Bazooka. The latest kid on the block is the banking union. Although it has been discussed by economists since even before the 2007 crisis, it has moved up to the top of the Eurozone agenda. But what kind of banking union? For whom? Financed how? And managed by whom?
A new collection of short essays by leading economists on both sides of the Atlantic — including Josh Aizenman, Franklin Allen, Viral Acharya, Luis Garicano, and Charles Goodhart — takes a closer look at the concept of a banking union for Europe, including the macroeconomic perspective in the context of the current crisis, institutional details, and political economy. The authors do not necessarily agree and point to lots of tradeoffs. However, several consistent messages come out of this collection:
In September 2008, the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank precipitated a financial crisis and a sharp decline in international credit. Massive layoffs and an economic recession in the U.S. and many industrialized and developing countries ensued. In some countries, however, the effects of the financial crisis were limited and short-lived. This was true for Brazil and China, both of which continued to experience high rates of economic growth in subsequent years. A cited reason for these countries’ relative success during this period has been government involvement in the banking sector 1.
The recent global financial crisis reignited the debate on the ownership structure of the banking sector and its consequences for financial intermediation. Some have pointed to the presence of foreign banks in developing countries as a key mechanism for transmitting the 2008-2009 crisis from advanced to developing countries (e.g., IMF, 2009). At the same time, developing countries like Brazil, China, and India, where government-owned banks are systemically important, recovered quickly from the crisis, generating interest in the potential mitigating role that these banks can play during periods of financial distress. 
How do financial systems around the world stack up? Which one has the highest number of bank accounts per capita? Where in the world do we find the lowest interest rate spreads, and where are they the highest? Which country has the most active stock market? Has competition among banks increased or decreased in recent years? Are financial institutions and financial markets in developed economies more or less stable than those in developing ones? Answers to these and many other interesting questions can be found in the Global Financial Development Database, accompanying the 2013 Global Financial Development Report. Both the database and the report were published earlier this month.
The U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. released a study yesterday reporting that 17 million adults – or 7% of the adult population - live in an unbanked household. In fact, because they use the household as the unit of measurement, the FDIC considers this to be a lower-bound estimate of the number of unbanked adults living in America. The finding is therefore consistent with the World Bank Development Research Group’s Global Findex database which finds that 12% of American adults are unbanked. Both data sources consider an adult to be unbanked if they do not have an account at a formal financial institution.
The failure of the investment banking giant Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 marked the onset of the largest global economic meltdown since the Great Depression. The crisis has prompted many people to reassess state interventions in financial systems, from regulation and supervision of financial institutions and markets, to competition policy, to state guarantees and state ownership of banks, and to enhancements in financial infrastructure. But the crisis does not necessarily negate the considerable body of evidence on these topics accumulated over the past few decades. It is important to use the crisis experience to examine what went wrong and how to fix it. This is the motivation of the World Bank’s Global Financial Development Report, released this week, on the fourth anniversary of the Lehman failure.
There is more than one side to every story. Bank lending to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is not an exception. On one side are SMEs, their expansion plans, and their needs for financing. On the other side are banks and their policies. Empirical analyses of financing to SMEs typically focus on the firms’ side of the story. Surveys gather information from firms and try to understand their sources of financing, if they are credit-constrained, or even if they rule themselves out from applying for bank loans because they believe they will be turned down by banks. Those surveys also collect detailed information on firm characteristics, e.g. the date the firm started operations, the owner’s gender, and the reason why the business was started. In other words, surveys on SME financing focus on consumers with great detail. Surveys rarely—if ever—focus on suppliers.
Financial literacy programs are fast becoming a key ingredient in financial policy reform worldwide. Yet, what is financial literacy exactly and what do we know of its effectiveness? In a new paper, Lisa Xu and I summarize existing evidence on both measurement and impact of financial literacy and provide lessons for policymakers and guidance for researchers on future work in this area.
While the working paper provides a detailed and practitioner-oriented overview of the recent research, drawing on what we’ve learned from surveys, impact evaluations, and other empirical work, I want to use this blog space to focus on lessons for the way forward.
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.