Over the past decade, the push for financial inclusion has united governments, companies, technology entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations in dozens of countries on every continent — and with remarkable success. In 2011, only 51 percent of the world’s adults had a formal bank account. By 2017, as the World Bank recently reported in its new Global Findex data, we’ve reached 69 percent — that is 1.2 billion more people who are now connected to the modern economy.
As more people in emerging markets gain access to the formal financial system — fueled by the increased penetration of the mobile phone and associated digital financial services — the pace of financial inclusion is accelerating. At this rate, we're on track to reach universal financial access by 2020, a goal set by the World Bank, which is an important success milestone. Access to basic financial services, such as a bank account, credit, and insurance, is a crucial step in improving people's social and economic outlook.
Interest rate caps can have far-reaching consequences on the composition and maturity of commercial bank loans and deposits. From both a policy and research standpoint, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind such impacts and the channels through which they affect various players in the financial sector.
While cross-country evidence suggests that interest rate caps can reduce credit availability and increase costs for low-income borrowers1, rigorous micro-evidence on the channels of impact within an economy is missing.
In a new working paper that uses bank-level panel data from Kenya, Mehnaz Safavian and I carefully examine the impact of the recently imposed interest rate caps on the country’s formal financial sector.2
In September 2016, the Kenyan Parliament passed a bill that effectively imposed a cap on interest rates charged on loans and a corresponding floor on the interest rates offered for deposit accounts by commercial banks. This new legislation was in response to the public view that lending rates in Kenya were too high, and that banks were engaging in predatory lending behavior. The interest rate caps were therefore intended to alleviate the repayment burden on borrowers and improve financial inclusion as more individuals and firms would be able to borrow at the lower repayment rates.
Since the early 2000s, local-currency debt (mostly traded in domestic markets) became a growing and important source of funding for several governments in emerging market economies. Despite their impressive growth, many domestic sovereign debt markets maintain a captive domestic audience that facilitates direct credit to government. This represents a form of financial repression 1, which can lead to a crowding out of private credit.
The degree of this form of financial repression depends crucially on government access to foreign credit. If there is a low presence of foreign investors in domestic sovereign debt markets, governments have to rely heavily on domestic financial institutions potentially worsening the crowding out of private credit. In turn, an increased presence of foreign investors might reduce financial repression, and free resources for the private sector. As a result local firms may be able to finance more investment projects and boost economic activity. Although intuitive, there is little evidence on this topic because of identification challenges.2 In a recent study (Williams, 2018), I use a quasi-natural experiment in Colombia and provide evidence on how the entrance of foreign investors into domestic sovereign debt markets reduces financial repression and increases domestic credit growth, boosting economic activity.
In part I of this blog, we discussed the implications of our proposed “Accounting View” of money as it applies to legal tender. In part II, we further elaborated on the implications of the new approach, with specific reference to commercial bank money. We conclude our treatment of commercial bank money in this part, starting from where we left, that is, the double (accounting) nature of commercial bank (sight) deposits as debt or equity.
Bank deposits: debt, equity, or both…?
This double nature is stochastic in as much as, at issuance, every deposit unit can be debt (if, with a certain probability, the issuing bank receives requests for cash conversion or interbank settlement) and equity (with complementary probability). Faced with such a stochastic double nature, a commercial bank finds it convenient to provision the deposit unit issued with an amount of reserves that equals only the expected value of the associated debt event, rather than the full value of the deposit unit issued.
In part I of this blog, we discussed the implications of our proposed “Accounting View” of money as it applies to legal tender. In this part and the next, we elaborate on the implications of the new approach, with specific reference to commercial bank money.
Bank deposits and central bank reserves
After long being a tenet of post-Keynesian theories of money,1 even mainstream economics has finally recognized that commercial banks are not simple intermediaries of already existing money; they create their own money by issuing liabilities in the form of sight deposits (McLeay, Radia, and Thomas 2014).2
If banks create money, they do not need to raise deposits to lend or sell (Werner 2014). Still, they must avail themselves of the cash and reserves necessary to guarantee cash withdrawals from clients and settle obligations to other banks emanating from client instructions to mobilize deposits to make payments and transfers.
The relevant payment orders are only those between clients of different banks, since the settlement of payments between clients of the same bank (“on us” payments) does not require the use of reserves and takes place simply by debiting and crediting accounts held on the books of the bank.
Coins circulating as legal tender in national jurisdictions worldwide are treated as debt liabilities of the issuing states and reported as a component of public debt under national accounting statistics (ESA 2010). Similarly, banknotes issued by central banks and central bank reserves are accounted for as central bank debt to their holders.
Although the law says that money is “debt,” a correct application of the general principles of accounting raises doubts about such a conception of money. Debt involves an obligation between lender and borrower as contracting parties. Yet, for the state, which obligation derives from the rights entertained by the holders of coins? Or, for a central bank, which obligation derives from the rights entertained by the holders of banknotes or the banks holding reserves?
The retrenchment and intensified regulation of the traditional banking system after the global financial crisis, combined with greater access to information technology and wider use of mobile devices, have allowed a new generation of firms to flourish and deliver a wide array of financial services. What does this mean for the traditional banking system?
In the Global Financial Development Report 2017/18 and a new Research and Policy Brief, we argue that despite the rapid expansion of fintech companies, so far, the level of disruption seems to have been low. This is partly driven by the complementarity between the services provided by many fintech providers and traditional banks. That is, in many instances, the new fintech companies bring alternative sources of external finance to consumers and SMEs, without displacing banks. For example, online lending is an alternative for the type of borrower usually underserved by traditional banks. This is of special relevance not only for households and firms in the developing world (where the banking system is often underdeveloped), but also for underserved borrowers in high-income countries. Moreover, because a bank account is needed to perform many of the fintech services, it is hard now to imagine fintech companies overtaking banks completely and becoming involved in the current accounts niche. There will always be need for a highly regulated service that allows households and firms to keep their money safe and accessible. Banks seem to be the players best suited for that role.
Asian economies are well positioned for robust growth — with GDPs expected to rise by an average of 6.3% in each of the next two years. Emerging markets in Asia are also the best performers in economic growth in recent years, especially when compared with emerging markets outside of Asia.
But to ensure this growth is equitable and inclusive, Asian business leaders, academics and policymakers need to confront a host of challenges, including significant “unbanked” and “underbanked” populations. More than 1 billion people within the region still have no access to formal financial services — meaning, no formal employment, no bank account, no meaningful ability to engage in commerce online or offline. By some estimates, only 27% percent of adults have a bank account, and only 33% of firms have a loan or line of credit. As was highlighted by the speakers at the recent Mastercard-SMU Forum in Singapore, greater financial inclusion must become an essential component of Asia’s economic development.