The Role of Banks

Key Concepts and Summary

Banks facilitate using money for transactions in the economy because people and firms can use bank accounts when selling or buying goods and services, when paying a worker or receiving payment, and when saving money or receiving a loan. In the financial capital market, banks are financial intermediaries; that is, they operate between savers who supply financial capital and borrowers who demand loans. A balance sheet (sometimes called a T-account) is an accounting tool which lists assets in one column and liabilities in another. The bank's liabilities are its deposits. The bank's assets include its loans, its ownership of bonds, and its reserves (which it does not loan out). We calculate a bank's net worth by subtracting its liabilities from its assets. Banks run a risk of negative net worth if the value of their assets declines. The value of assets can decline because of an unexpectedly high number of defaults on loans, or if interest rates rise and the bank suffers an asset-liability time mismatch in which the bank is receiving a low interest rate on its long-term loans but must pay the currently higher market interest rate to attract depositors. Banks can protect themselves against these risks by choosing to diversify their loans or to hold a greater proportion of their assets in bonds and reserves. If banks hold only a fraction of their deposits as reserves, then the process of banks’ lending money, re-depositing those loans in banks, and the banks making additional loans will create money in the economy.