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Financial Sector

Has the Global Banking System Become More Fragile Over Time?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

The last decade has seen a tremendous transformation in the global financial sector. Globalization, innovations in communications technology and de-regulation have led to significant growth of financial institutions around the world. These trends had positive economic benefits in the form of increased productivity, increased capital flows, lower borrowing costs, and better price discovery and risk diversification. But the same trends have also lead to greater linkages across financial institutions around the world as well as an increase in exposure of these institutions to common sources of risk. The recent financial crisis has demonstrated that financial institutions around the world are highly inter-connected and that vulnerabilities in one market can easily spread to other markets outside of national boundaries.

In a recent paper my co-author Deniz Anginer and I examine whether the global trends described above have led to an increase in co-dependence in default risk of commercial banks around the world. The growing expansion of financial institutions beyond national boundaries over the past decade has resulted in these institutions competing in increasingly similar markets, exposing them to common sources of market and credit risk. During the same period, rapid development of new financial instruments has created new channels of inter-dependency across these institutions. Both increased interconnections and common exposure to risk makes the banking sector more vulnerable to economic, liquidity and information shocks.

Credit Reporting: An Essential Building Block of Financial Access at the Base of the Pyramid

Margaret Miller's picture

Credit information and credit reporting systems are critical to a modern financial sector’s infrastructure. Since past behavior is one of the most powerful indicators of future behavior, credit reports which detail payment histories provide lenders with a valuable tool to classify the risk posed by different borrowers. Credit reporting systems reduce the impact of asymmetric information on credit markets, both by helping lenders to more effectively screen borrowers and avoid adverse selection and by providing an incentive for borrowers to repay their loans—thus reducing moral hazard.

These systems are very well developed in North America and parts of Western Europe but are relatively new in most of the world. As data from the World Bank’s Doing Business database shows (see Figure 1 below), only a small fraction of adults are covered even where credit bureaus do operate. Even in Latin America, which has the best coverage of any emerging market region, only about one third of adults are covered. In many other regions, significantly fewer than 10% of adults have a credit report, and those who are in the system are likely to be high-income consumers with bank loans, not customers of microfinance lenders or retail credit providers.

Conflict Between an International Financial Agreement and the Borrower’s Domestic Law: Which One Prevails?

Ryan Hahn's picture

AAF blog readers who are in Washington, DC this week may be interested in attending an event this Wednesday on Conflict Between an International Financial Agreement and the Borrower’s Domestic Law: Which One Prevails?. The event is part of the World Bank Group's annual Law, Justice and Development week. More details on the event are here, and full details on the LJD week are here.

The Future of Banking

Thorsten Beck's picture

For better or worse, banking is back in the headlines. From the desperate efforts of crisis-struck Eurozone governments to the Occupy Wall Street movement currently spreading across the globe, the future of banking is hotly debated. A new compilation of short essays by leading financial economists from the U.S. and Europe analyzes the short-term challenges in addressing the Euro-crisis as well as the medium- to long-term regulatory issues. The essays cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from Eurobonds to ring-fencing and taxation, but there are several themes that come through across the chapters. First, many reforms have been initiated or are under preparation, but they are often only the first step towards a safer financial system. Second, there is a need to change banks’ incentive structure in order to reduce aggressive risk-taking. Third, there is an urgent – also political – need to move away from privatizing gains and nationalizing losses, thus from bailing out to bailing in bank equity and junior debt holders.

I will not be able to touch on all the topics discussed in the book, so let me discuss some of the main messages in more detail. Ring fencing – the separation of banks’ commercial and trading activities, known as the Volcker Rule but also recommended by the Vickers Commission in the UK – continues to be heavily discussed among economists. While Arnoud Boot thinks that “heavy-handed intervention in the structure of the banking industry … is an inevitable part of the restructuring of the industry”, Viral Acharya insists that it is not a panacea as long as incentive problems are not addressed. Banks might still undertake risky activities within the ring or might even have incentives to take more aggressive risk. Capital regulations have to be an important part of the equation.

Do We Need Deposit Insurance for Large Banks?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

I don’t think so. You may think this is an odd statement since nearly every country around the world has been busy either introducing or at least expanding its insurance coverage since the 2008 financial crisis. This is not surprising, considering that the U.S. was also in the midst of a banking crisis in 1933 when it first introduced deposit insurance.

But think of it this way. Deposit insurance is not meant to stop systemic crises; as we all know by now, governments do that. The purpose of deposit insurance is to protect individual banks from bank runs, mostly during normal times. Since large banks already have implicit protection because they are perceived to be “too-big-to-fail,” deposit insurance is really there to keep small banks in business. To the extent we believe small banks have an important role to play in supporting small, local businesses, this may be a worthy goal. But why do we still have deposit insurance for large banks?

Addressing the Too-Big-to-Fail Problem before the Banks Become Too-Big-to-Save

Inci Otker-Robe's picture

The unprecedented scope and intensity of the ongoing global financial crisis has underscored the too-important-to-fail (TITF) problem associated with systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). Ahead of the crisis, implicit government backing permitted these institutions to take on greater risks without being adequately subjected to market discipline, and to enjoy a competitive funding advantage over systemically less important institutions. When the crisis broke, their scale, complexity, and interconnectedness, which had made them difficult to manage and supervise, also proved too significant to permit them to fail. The large-scale public support provided during the crisis has reinforced the moral hazard problem and allowed SIFIs to grow even more complex and larger.

In a recent IMF Staff Position Note with my coauthors, Aditya Narain, Anna Ilyina, Jay Surti, and other IMF colleagues, we found that a regionally diverse group of 84 banks, which are sufficiently large or interconnected to be considered systemic at national, regional, or global levels, doubled their share of total global financial assets over the period 2000-09, to about a quarter (Figure 1). The assets of some of these banks exceed multiples of the size of their home economies (Figure 2). This importance, in turn, gives such banks greater influence over the regulatory and legislative process and a competitive advantage over systemically less important institutions, while making the rescue of such institutions, when they get into trouble, a very costly affair. In countries affected by the recent financial crisis, governments protected many of these institutions from failure by providing direct and indirect support to contain the damage to the broader economy (the direct support, excluding guarantees, is estimated at 6.4 percent of GDP on average in the most crisis-affected countries in end-2010).

Cross-Border Banking Linkages: Good or Bad for Banking Stability?

Martin Cihak's picture

When a country’s banking sector becomes more linked to banks abroad, does it get more or less prone to a banking crisis? In other words, should cross-border banking linkages be welcomed? Or should they be approached with caution or perhaps even suppressed in some way?

The recent global financial crisis has illustrated quite dramatically that increased financial linkages across borders can have a ‘dark side’: they can make it easier for disruptions in one country to be transmitted to other countries and to mutate into systemic problems with global implications. 

But financial cross-border linkages may also benefit economies in various ways. They can provide new funding and investment opportunities, contributing to rapid economic growth, as witnessed in many countries in the early part of the 2000s. The more ‘dense’ linkages also provide a greater diversity of funding options, so when there are funding problems in one jurisdiction, there are potentially many ‘safety valves’ in terms of alternative funding.

Taxing financial transactions?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

With federal budget deficits soaring all over the world, policy makers are looking at every opportunity to find new sources of revenue. After the bailouts of the financial sector and public backlash against announcements of large profits and bonuses by banks, a financial transactions tax appears to be a popular proposal both in the U.S. and abroad to "recoup" costs from the financial services industry. But is it really a good idea?

Following James Tobin’s original proposal, governments would place a small tax on financial transactions to discourage speculators (who trade frequently) without putting an undue burden on investors who buy for the long haul. Such a national transaction tax, at a rate of 0.1% to 0.25% of the value of the trade, would be levied on all financial transactions such as stock trades, but not on consumer transactions like credit cards. Advocates in the U.S. argue that it would raise $100 billion to $150 billion a year. Many economists – including prominent figures like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jeffrey Sachs – have backed the tax.

Triplet Crises: Lessons European Leaders Can Learn From Emerging Markets

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

Much of the discussion surrounding the current European crisis focused initially on whether a default by Greece was inevitable and how that would impact bond holders. Over time, the attention has shifted to banks and the potential for a generalized run and failure of the financial system, not only in Greece but also in other countries. Unfortunately, the developments in Europe are awfully similar to those in emerging economies in the past. The lessons learned in emerging markets might have helped European policymakers lessen the spillovers from macroeconomic risk to the financial sector, and even at this stage may still be useful for understanding how to manage the on-going crisis.

Many emerging economies used to follow exchange rate pegs, had large degree of liability dollarization, and ran fiscal deficits financed by the banking sector, which led to “triplet crises” involving debt, currency, and banking collapses. The  crises in Argentina and Uruguay in 2000–02 are illustrative. In a recent paper co-authored with Levy Yeyati, we show that macroeconomic risks like exchange rate devaluations or sovereign debt defaults can quickly cause the collapse of banking systems. These macroeconomic events are not random or driven by contagion across banks. Macroeconomic factors that are largely irrelevant in explaining depositor behavior during tranquil times can rapidly become the main driver of market response during crisis episodes, even after controlling for standard bank-specific traits. Furthermore, a crisis in one country (Argentina) can contaminate the banking system of a neighboring country (Uruguay) in a matter of days.