Are failproof banking systems feasible? Desirable?
In recent years, instability of the banking system has returned as a major problem in many countries, particularly in the developing world. In many cases, this instability has been so threatening to financial intermediation and the functioning of the payments system that governments have felt compelled to intervene and restructure banks, often at considerable cost to the public budget. One response to these problems has been a proposal to create failproof banking systems - to radically transform the structure, priorities, and operation of the banking and financial system. Banks would be limited to issuing deposits, holding essentially riskless portfolios, and operating the payments system. To minimize the resulting disruptions to the financial system, banks would be authorized (and encouraged) to set up holding companies and then transfer to holding company affiliates all the functions - including lending - that banks would no longer be permitted to perform. So while the failproof banking proposal would severely restrict the activity of banks, it would not restrict the activities of banking organizations that convert to a holding company form of organization. This proposal would produce major public benefits. It would assure a nation of a smoothly functioning banking and payments system, would substantially reduce the resources committed to banking supervision, would prevent bank-type regulation from expanding to the rest of the financial system, and would place banking and nonbanking organizations on a level playing field for the financial activities in which they compete. There are two major problems with the proposal. First, it might be difficult to implement because of too few riskless assets in a nation's financial system. (The author suggests several modifications that would alleviate this problem in some countries.) Second, the proposal might hurt the financial market by: (a) increasing interest rates for higher-risk borrowers, forcing them out of the market; and (b) transfering greater risk to the nonbank sector of the financial system, making it more susceptible to crisis. Although the proposal would benefit developing countries (more prone to banking instability) more than industrial countries, it would also be more difficult to implement in developing countries. And the adverse effects of the proposal would be felt more severely in the financial markets of developing countries than in industrial countries, which have deeper, more responsive financial markets.
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- James Tobin, 1987. "The case for preserving regulatory distinctions," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 167-205.
- Robert J. Lawrence & Samuel H. Talley, 1988. "Implementing a fail-proof banking system," Proceedings 206, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
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