Article - What is Bank and Banking?

Article: What is bank and banking?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


What is bank?

A bank [bæŋk] is a business that provides financial services, usually for profit. Traditional banking services include receiving deposits of money, lending money and processing transactions. A commercial bank accepts deposits from customers and in turn makes loans based on those deposits. Some banks (called Banks of issue) issue banknotes as legal tender. Many banks offer ancillary financial services to make additional profit; for example: selling insurance products, investment products or stock broking.

Currently in most jurisdictions commercial banks are regulated and require permission to operate. Operational authority is granted by bank regulatory authorities and provide rights to conduct the most fundamental banking services such as accepting deposits and making loans. A commercial bank is usually defined as an institution that both accepts deposits and makes loans; there are also financial institutions that provide selected banking services without meeting the legal definition of a bank (see banking institutions).

Banks have a long history, and have influenced economies and politics for centuries. In history, the primary purpose of a bank was to provide liquidity to trading companies. Banks advanced funds to allow businesses to purchase inventory, and collected those funds back with interest when the goods were sold. For centuries, the banking industry only dealt with businesses, not consumers. Commercial lending today is a very intense activity, with banks carefully analysing the financial condition of its business clients to determine the level of risk in each loan transaction. Banking services have expanded to include services directed at individuals and risk in these much smaller transactions are pooled.

A bank generates a profit from the differential between what level of interest it pays for deposits and other sources of funds, and what level of interest it charges in its lending activities. This difference is referred to as the spread between the cost of funds and the loan interest rate. Historically, profitability from lending activities has been cyclic and dependent on the needs and strengths of loan customers. In recent history, investors have demanded a more stable revenue stream and banks have therefore placed more emphasis on transaction fees, primarily loan fees but also including service charges on array of deposit activities and ancillary services (international banking, foreign exchange, insurance, investments, wire transfers, etc.). However, lending activities still provide the bulk of a commercial bank's income.

The name bank derives from the Italian word banco, desk, used during the Renaissance by Florentines bankers, who used to make their transactions above a desk covered by a green tablecloth.

Services typically offered by banks

Although the basic type of services offered by a bank depends upon the type of bank and the country, services provided usually include:

Financial transactions can be performed through many different channels:

Types of banks

Banks' activities can be divided into retail banking, dealing directly with individuals and small businesses; business banking, providing services to mid-market business; corporate banking, directed at large business entities; and investment banking, relating to activities on the financial markets. Most banks are profit-making, private enterprises. However, some are owned by government, or are non-profits.

Central banks are non-commercial bodies or government agencies often charged with controlling interest rates and money supply across the whole economy. They generally provide liquidity to the banking system and act as Lender of last resort in event of a crisis.

Types of retail banks

Types of investment banks

Both combined

Universal banks, more commonly known as a financial services company, engage in several of these activities. For example, First Bank (a very large bank) is involved in commercial and retail lending, and its subsidiaries in tax-havens offer offshore banking services to customers in other countries. Other large financial institutions are similarly diversified and engage in multiple activities. In Europe and Asia, big banks are very diversified groups that, among other services, also distribute insurance, hence the term bancassurance.

Other types of banks

Islamic Banking

Islamic banks adhere to the concepts of Islamic law. Islamic banking revolves around several well established concepts which are based on Islamic canons. Since the concept of interest is forbidden in Islam, all banking activities must avoid interest. Instead of interest, the bank earns profit (mark-up) and fees on financing facilities that it extends to the customers. Also, deposit makers earn a share of the bank’s profit as opposed to a predetermined interest.

Banks in the economy

Role in the money supply

A bank raises funds by attracting deposits, borrowing money in the inter-bank market, or issuing financial instruments in the money market or a capital market. The bank then lends out most of these funds to borrowers.

However, it would not be prudent for a bank to lend out all of its balance sheet. It must keep a certain proportion of its funds in reserve so that it can repay depositors who withdraw their deposits. Bank reserves are typically kept in the form of a deposit with a central bank. This behaviour is called fractional-reserve banking and it is a central issue of monetary policy. Note that under Basel I (and the new round of Basel II), banks no longer keep deposits with central banks, but must maintain defined capital ratios.

Size of global banking industry

Worldwide assets of the largest 1,000 banks grew 15.5% in 2005 to reach a record $60.5 trillion. This follows a 19.3% increase in the previous year. EU banks held the largest share, 50% at the end of 2005, up from 38% a decade earlier. The growth in Europe’s share was mostly at the expense of Japanese banks whose share more than halved during this period from 33% to 13%. The share of US banks also rose, from 10% to 14%. Most of the remainder was from other Asian and European countries.

The US had by far the most banks (7,540 at end-2005) and branches (75,000) in the world. The large number of banks in the US is an indicator of its geography and regulatory structure, resulting in a large number of small to medium sized institutions in its banking system. Japan had 129 banks and 12,000 branches. In 2004, Germany, France, and Italy had more than 30,000 branches each—more than double the 15,000 branches in the UK.

Bank crisis

Banks are susceptible to many forms of risk which have triggered occasional systemic crises. Risks include liquidity risk (the risk that many depositors will request withdrawals beyond available funds), credit risk (the risk that those who owe money to the bank will not repay), and interest rate risk (the risk that the bank will become unprofitable if rising interest rates force it to pay relatively more on its deposits than it receives on its loans), among others.

Banking crises have developed many times throughout history when one or more risks materialize for a banking sector as a whole. Prominent examples include the U.S. Savings and Loan crisis in 1980s and early 1990s, the Japanese banking crisis during the 1990s, the bank run that occurred during the Great Depression, and the recent liquidation by the central Bank of Nigeria, where about 25 banks were liquidated.


Bank regulations are a form of government regulation which subject banks to certain requirements, restrictions and guidelines, aiming to uphold the soundness and integrity of the financial system. The combination of the instability of banks as well as their important facilitating role in the economy led to banking being thoroughly regulated. The amount of capital a bank is required to hold is a function of the amount and quality of its assets. Major banks are subject to the Basel Capital Accord promulgated by the Bank for International Settlements. In addition, banks are usually required to purchase deposit insurance to make sure smaller investors are not wiped out in the event of a bank failure.

Another reason banks are thoroughly regulated is that ultimately, no government can allow the banking system to fail. There is almost always a lender of last resort—in the event of a liquidity crisis (where short term obligations exceed short term assets) some element of government will step in to lend banks enough money to avoid bankruptcy.

Public perceptions of banks

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In United States history, the National Bank was a major political issue during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson fought against the bank as a symbol of greed and profit-mongering, antithetical to the democratic ideals of the United States.

Currently, many people consider that various banking policies take advantage of customers. Specific concerns are policies that permit banks to hold deposited funds for several days, to apply withdrawals before deposits or from greatest to least, which is most likely to cause the greatest overdraft, that allow backdating funds transfers and fee assessments, and that authorize electronic funds transfers despite an overdraft.

In response to the perceived greed and socially-irresponsible all-for-the-profit attitude of banks, in the last few decades a new type of banks called ethical banks have emerged, which only make social-responsible investments (for instance, no investment in the arms industry) and are transparent in all its operations.

In the US, credit unions have also gained popularity as an alternative financial resource for many consumers. Also, in various European countries, cooperative banks are regularly gaining market share in retail banking.


Large banks in the United States are some of the most profitable corporations, especially relative to the small market shares they have. This amount is even higher if one counts the credit divisions of companies like Ford, which are responsible for a large proportion of those companies' profits.

In the past 10 years in the United States, banks have taken many measures to ensure that they remain profitable while responding to ever-changing market conditions. First, this includes the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allows banks again to merge with investment and insurance houses. Merging banking, investment, and insurance functions allows traditional banks to respond to increasing consumer demands for "one-stop shopping" by enabling cross-selling of products (which, the banks hope, will also increase profitability). Second, they have expanded the use of risk-based pricing from business lending to consumer lending, which means charging higher interest rates to those customers that are considered to be a higher credit risk and thus increased chance of default on loans. This helps to offset the losses from bad loans, lowers the price of loans to those who have better credit histories, and offers credit products to high risk customers who would otherwise been denied credit. Third, they have sought to increase the methods of payment processing available to the general public and business clients. These products include debit cards, pre-paid cards, smart-cards, and credit cards. These products make it easier for consumers to conveniently make transactions and smooth their consumption over time (in some countries with under-developed financial systems, it is still common to deal strictly in cash, including carrying suitcases filled with cash to purchase a home). However, with convenience there is also increased risk that consumers will mis-manage their financial resources and accumulate excessive debt. Banks make money from card products through interest payments and fees charged to consumers and transaction fees to companies that accept the cards.

The banking industry's main obstacles to increasing profits are existing regulatory burdens, new government regulation, and increasing competition from non-traditional financial institutions.

Bank size information

Top ten banking groups in the world ranked by Shareholder equity ($m)

The 2006 bank atlas was compiled from commercial banks’ annual reports and financial statements for 2006 and 2005. Figures in U.S. dollars;

  1. United States, Citigroup, 112537 $mln
  2. United States, JPMorgan Chase, 107211 $mln
  3. United States, Bank of America, 101224 $mln
  4. United Kingdom, HSBC, 98226 $mln
  5. Japan, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, 83281 $mln
  6. France, Credit Agricole Group, 65137 $mln
  7. United Kingdom, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, 64453 $mln

Top ten banking groups in the world ranked by assets

At the end of 2006 HSBC had 1738 billion while Mitsubishi UFJ Finl. had 1700 and citigroup 1630 billion assets. Figures in U.S. dollars, and as at end-2004;

  1. Switzerland, UBS, 1,533 billion
  2. United States, Citigroup, 1,484 billion
  3. Japan, Mizuho Financial Group, 1,296 billion
  4. United Kingdom, HSBC Holdings, 1,277 billion
  5. France, Credit Agricole Group, 1,243 billion
  6. France, BNP Paribas, 1,234 billion
  7. United States, JPMorgan Chase & Co., 1,157 billion
  8. Germany, Deutsche Bank, 1,144 billion
  9. United Kingdom, Royal Bank of Scotland, 1,119 billion
  10. United States, Bank of America, 1,110 billion

Top ten banks in the world ranked by market capitalisation

Figures in U.S. dollars, and as at 26 July 2006;

  1. United States, Citigroup, 275 billion
  2. People's Republic of China, ICBC, 250 billion
  3. United States, Bank of America, 230 billion
  4. United Kingdom, HSBC, 200 billion
  5. United States, JPMorgan Chase, 150 billion
  6. Japan, Mitsubishi UFJ, 145 billion
  7. Italy, Unicredit, 130 billion (2007)
  8. United States, Wells Fargo, 120 billion
  9. Switzerland, UBS, 110 billion
  10. United Kingdom, Royal Bank of Scotland, 100 billion

Following the January 2007 merger, Italy's Intesa Sanpoalo has a market cap of $100.5 billion

Top ten bank holding companies in the world ranked by profit

Figures in U.S. dollars, and as 2006;

  1. United States, Citigroup, 22.13 billion
  2. United States, Bank of America, 21.13 billion
  3. United Kingdom, HSBC, 14.55 billion
  4. United States, JP Morgan Chase, 14.44 billion
  5. United Kingdom, Royal Bank of Scotland, 12.1 billion
  6. Switzerland, UBS, 9.79 billion
  7. United States, Goldman Sachs, 9.34 billion
  8. United States, Wells Farg, 8.48 billion
  9. United States, Wachovia, 7.79 billion
  10. United States, Morgan, Stanley 7.45 billion

Top ten banking groups in the world ranked by Tier 1 capital

Figures in U.S. dollars, and as at end-2005;

  1. United Kingdom, HSBC, 79 billion
  2. United States, Citigroup, 75 billion
  3. United States, Bank of America, 73 billion
  4. United States, JP Morgan Chase, 72 billion
  5. Japan, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, 64 billion
  6. France , Credit Agricole Group, 60 billion
  7. United Kingdom, Royal Bank of Scotland, 48 billion
  8. Japan, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group ,40 billion
  9. Japan, Mizuho Financial Group, 39 billion,
  10. Spain, Santander Central Hispano, 38 billion

History of banking

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia Article "Bank".

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