The Banking Firm

Unit 5: The Banking Firm


5.1 Introduction

Banks are organized under joint company system, primarily for the purpose of earning a profit to share holders in a form of dividends. The economic environment of banking is ever changing, and like other businesses, banks are profit-maximizing firms. As banking becomes more competitive, bank management must become more sophisticated and must more closely scrutinize revenues, expenses, and the five key risks of banking: liquidity risk, interest rate risk, credit risk(deposit risk), foreign exchange risk and political risk.

We begin the chapter by providing an overview of the banking industry. Next, we examine the principal business activities summarized on a bank’s balance sheet. Then we will discuss in detail how banks manage their activities to survive as a going concern.


5.2 Banking as an Enterprise

Commercial banks are organized on a share company basis and aims at, as any commercial organization, maximizing profit to shareholders in a form of dividends. Banking enterprises and other business organizations carry out their activities in a different environment.

Accordingly, Banking enterprises has certain unique characteristics.

  1. Banks work under a special environment and faces a peculiar balance sheet situation i.e. Banks face very short-term loans, which are in effect payable on demand and long-term assets which takes long time for collection.
    The difficult task to the banker is reconciling the short-term loans with that of long-term assets. This makes the banking activity seem to be very risky and unstable. However, the banker is so fortunate that it has many depositors, none of whom predominates and normally they behave in an offsetting way- as some draw their deposits down, others build theirs up. The net effect in a bank’s deposits is small relative to the gross volume of deposit inflows and outflows. This helps the banker to predict more or less closely both the percent of deposits and will be withdrawals on a day -to-day basis. The bank is expected to meet the net deposit outflows. This may occasionally be much larger than it expects.
    If the net deposit outflow is more than the expectation of the bank and if the bank fails to pay out the demanded deposit, even if temporarily, the bank will be threatened to be closed down. Therefore, banks have to watch their liquidity position very carefully and make sure that they have enough highly liquid assets or possibilities of borrowing from other sources, to meet unexpected deposit drains, which is very expensive.
    If the bank maintains an idle asset, which is highly liquid, it increases the bank’s liquidity but pays no return to the banker. High liquid assets like; cash, deposit in other banks, reserve at national bank etc. are none income earning. But such assets have low risks of all kinds.
    The banker should maintain an asset that is liquid and attracts profit-which is practically difficult due to high competition. If assets are highly liquid they yield no income but if they are less liquid they will yield high income to the banker. Therefore, the banks have to balance at the margin three characteristics of assets: safety (solvency & liquidity) and yield (profitability). On the one hand, the bank should be safe and liquid to meet depositors demand for withdrawal and on the other hand, the bank should be able to cover its costs and get profit in order to survive.   
  2. The relation ship between banker and his customer is long term and multi-product.
    A firm uses many bank services such as payroll preparation, trusteeship, property administration, agency services etc in addition to depositing and borrowing money from the banker. Firms are job creators to   the banker. The banker also facilitates the activities of the firm by rendering certain services such as creating accepting and collecting of cheques, safe custody services, issuing travelers cheques, etc.
  3. Banking activities and enterprises are heterogeneous.

If comprises very small banks working only in a highly restricted areas as well as large internationally oriented banks, commercial banks which emphasizes on short term loans to industrial and agricultural banks which advance long term loans.


5.3 Balance sheet of a Banks

Balance sheet is a statement that shows the firm’s assets, liabilities and capital on a particular date. The bank’s balance sheet items are dimensionally different from other balance sheet of an ordinary firm.

The balance sheet lists what the business owns (assets), what the firm owes to others(liabilities) and what the owners have invested ( capital) as of a given time. The basic balance sheet equation expresses the relationship between these accounts as: -

                  Asset = Liabilities + capital

The capital account (or net worth) is a residual that can be calculated by subtracting liabilities owed to creditors from the total assets owned by the bank. The right-hand side of the equation can be viewed as the sources of funds for a bank. Funds are supplied by either creditors (liabilities) or the owners (capital). The lift-hand side of the equation shows the uses of funds (Assets) that the bank has obtained from the creditors and owners.

The primary function of a bank is accepting deposits for credit creation purpose. The bank is thus a dealer in debts.  It issues its own debts (mainly deposits) and it holds the debts of borrowers. Both types of debts are recorded on the bank’s balance sheet, which is simply a double entry statement of assets and liabilities.

Deposits are the largest sources of funds for most banks, but they are a much more important source for small banks. Borrowed funds are a more important sources of funds for large banks. Banks in general are thinly capitalized, but small banks tend to be better capitalized than large ones-Most bank liabilities are short term. Because it is difficult to attract more deposits and investments by smaller banks, their capital is relatively higher.

Economically deposit accounts are similar to other sources of funds borrowed by the bank.  Legally, however, deposits take precedence over most other sources of borrowed funds in case of a bank failure. At the time the bank fails to meet depositors claim their balance is recovered just before other creditors. Furthermore, insurance companies insure the holders of such accounts against any loss.


5.3.1 The Bank’s Liability Accounts  

Major liability items of a bank shown on its balance sheet can be discussed as follows.

A. Demand/Transactions Accounts:-Banks hold a number of different types of transaction accounts, which are more commonly called checking accounts or demand deposit accounts. A demand deposit or a checking account is an account whereby the owner is entitled to receive his or her funds on demand and to write checks on the account, which transfers legal ownership of funds to others. Demand deposits serve as the basic medium of exchange in the economy. Individuals, government entities and business organizations may own them. Legally a demand deposit is defined as a deposit that is payable on demand or issued with an original maturity of less than seven days. Because they are closely associated with consumer transactions, demand deposits are relatively more important as a source of funds for small consumer oriented banks than for large banks. The demand deposits of individual corporations, state and local governments are held primarily for transaction purposes. The detail of this part is already discussed under unit 2.

B. Saving Deposits:- Saving accounts are the traditional form of savings held by most individuals and non-profit organizations. They are a more important source of funds for small banks than for large banks. Historically, savings deposit had low handling costs because of their low activity level. This part is discussed thoroughly under chapter 2.

C. Time Deposits /Time liabilities/ fixed deposits:-Time deposits, unlike demand deposits, are usually legally due as of a maturity date and funds connote be transferred to another party by a written check. Both consumers and corporations can own them, and their characteristics vary widely with respect to maturity, minimum amount, early withdrawal penalty, negotiability and renewability. The principal types of bank time deposits are savings certificates, money market certificates and certificates of deposits. They are discussed in detail under chapter two.

D. Borrowed Funds:-They are typically short-term borrowings by commercial banks from the wholesale money markets or a national bank reserve. They are economically similar to deposits but are not insured by the national bank. Borrowed funds are a source of funds primarily for large banks. The principal types of borrowed funds are: Borrowed Federal Funds, Repurchase Agreements, Eurodollar, Banker’s Acceptances, Federal Reserve Bank Loans etc.

   i).Federal Funds

For liquidity reasons, banks may hold reserves in excess of those required by low. A bank with more excess reserves than it desires may lend reserves to another bank that does not have its required level of reserves or that desires additional reserves to make more loans. The buying (borrowing) and selling (lending) of reserves on deposit at the federal reserve banks (National bank reserve in our case) is called trading in federal funds (or Fed Funds).

The maturity of federal funds is usually one day, but the loan may be continuously reserved with the same or other banks in the federal funds market:- Federal Funds have the characteristics that they are transferred immediately, with the central reserve giving the receiving bank credit the same day. By contrast, a cheque may take at least a day to clear. An important component of central funds are reserves of a bank that are borrowed by another bank.

Apart from banks a few other institutions, such as central government agencies, savings and loan association, and mutual savings banks, are active in this market. A market for a Federal fund is a large market, and the big money market banks use it at times, not just to obtain the funds to meet their reserve requirements, but also to obtain funds for additional lending.  

   ii) Repurchase Agreements

Repurchase agreements (RPs) are a form of loan in which the bank sells securities (usually government securities) to the lender but simultaneously contracts to purchase the same securities either on call or on a specified date at a price that will produce an agreed yield.

Repurchase agreements pay explicit interest and natures with an over night, which are subject continuous renewal on a day-to day basis. There are also term RP transactions that are written for maturities up to 30 days. 

   iii) Banker’s Acceptances

A banker’s acceptance is a draft drawn on a bank by a corporation to pay for merchandise. The draft promises payment of a certain sum of money to its holder at some future date. What makes such drafts unique is that a bank accepts them by prearrangement, there by guaranteeing their payment at the stated time. In effect, the bank has substituted its credit standing for that of the issuer.

Acceptances arise in a rather complicated way. A firm selling to another firm on credit may not know enough about the buyer to feel safe in accepting its promise to pay. This is particularly likely to be the case with a foreign customers  (foreign trade transaction), in part because it is more difficult to sue in a foreign court than in a court in one’s own country, but while the seller does not want to take the customer’s promise to pay( I owe you ( IOU) ), rather appreciates to accept the IOU of the customer’s bank. Hence a financial instrument called a banker’s acceptance was developed. To explain this let us take an example.

      1st  Without Banker’s involvement.

The seller, who resides in Italy, draws up an order to pay by a certain date on the buyer, who resides in Ethiopia, and releases ownership of the merchandise to him or her when the buyer  "accepts” the order to pay by writing “accepted” across its face. It is now a trade acceptance and is legally binding. However, if the buyer fail to pay the amount according to the agreement, the problem arises as to where the case shall be presented: -at the seller’s country court or at the buyer’s country court or on the international court-which all have their own drawbacks. 

      2nd With the involvement of the bank

Alternatively, the buyer can make an arrangement with his or her bank allowing the seller to draw the order to pay not on the buyer, but on the buyer’s bank. When the bank writes “accepted” on this order to pay, it becomes a banker’s acceptance. Since the bank is liable to make the payment on it, when it accepts an order to pay , it is listed on the bank’s balance sheet as a liability . However, the bank is not making a loan to the buyer when it gives him or her documents, a letter of credit, stating that it will accept draft drawn on the banker. The buyer is supposed to make payment to the bank by the date the bank has to make its payments on the acceptance. An equal amount is recorded on asset side, as contra item. The bank lends its name and reputation, not funds, to the buyer who usually has to pay a small fee for this service. The seller, when he receives the bank’s acceptance needs to hold it to maturity. Often he wants to obtain his funds right away, and will therefore sell the acceptance (at a discount from its value) in the money market.

The buyer of such an acceptance, frequently another bank, obtains an extremely safe and liquid asset.     


E. Capital Notes and Bonds

Issuing bonds to raise funds is a common practice of most industrial firms. It is only in recent years that a few large commercial banks began raising funds by selling short-term capital notes or longer-term bonds.


   5.3.2 The Bank’s Capital Accounts

Bank capital represents the equity or ownership funds of a bank, and it is the account against which bank loans and security losses are charged. The greater the proportion of capital to deposits, the greater the protection to depositors. Banks maintain much lower capital accounts than other businesses. Capital is a more important source of funds for small banks than for large banks.

There are three principal types of capital accounts for a commercial bank. Capital stock, retained earnings and special reserve accounts. Capital stock represents the direct investments in to the bank; retained earnings comprise that portion of the bank’s profit that is not paid out to shareholders as dividends; special reserve accounts are set up to cover un-anticipated losses on loans and investments. Reserve accounts involve no transfers of funds or setting aside of cash. They are merely a form of retained earnings designed to reduce tax liabilities and stockholders claims on current revenues.


   5.3.3 The Bank’s Asset Accounts

The earning assets of bank are typically classified as either loans or investments and there are important differences between these two classes.

Loans are the primary business of bank and usually represent an ongoing relationship between the bank and its borrowers. A loan is a highly personalized contract between the borrower and the bank and is tailor-made to the particular needs of the customer. Loans are the most important earning assets held by banks. They have high yields, but they are typically not very liquid.

Investments, on the other hand, are standardized contracts issued by large, well-known borrowers and their purchase by the bank represents an impersonal or open market transaction. Consequently, they can be resold by the bank in secondary markets. Unlike loans, investments represent pure financing because the bank provides no service to the ultimate borrower other than the financing securities are a much more important assets for small banks than for large ones. Large banks concentrate in commercial loans, while small banks focus on consumer, agriculture and real estate loans.

A bank asset includes the following items and discussed as follows.

        A. Cash Assets

Cash items consist of vault cash, reserves with the Federal Reserve Bank (National Bank in Ethiopia), balances held at other banks and cash items in the process of collection. Cash asset are non-interest bearing funds. Banks try to minimize their holdings of these idle balances within their liquidity constraints. Because large banks must hold larger amounts of legal reserves and have more checks drawn against them than small banks; cash item accounts are typically a greater percentage of total assets for larger than smaller banks.

i) Vault Cash

Vault cash consists of coin and currency held in the bank’s own vault. Banks typically maintain only minimum amounts of vault cash because of the high cost of security, storage and transfer. Vault cash, however, perform two important functions for banks. First, it provides banks with funds to meet the cash needs of the public. Second, banks can count vault cash as part of their legal reserve requirements. 

ii) Reserves at Federal Reserve Banks /National Bank 

These deposits held by banks at the National Bank represent the major portion of the bank’s legal reserve requirements and serve as check- clearing and collection balances. Rather than physically transferring funds between banks, check clearing and collection can be done by simply debiting or crediting a bank’s account at the National Bank. Banks may also transfer funds to other banks for reasons other than check clearing

iii) Balances of other Banks

Banks hold demand deposit balances of other banks for a number of reasons: to meet state reserve requirements by holding balances at approved large banks and to secure correspondent services from large city banks.

iv) Cash Items in the process of collection

This account is the value of checks drawn on other banks but not yet collected. After a check written on another bank is deposited into a customer’s account, the receiving bank attempts to collect the funds through the check clearing mechanism. This is done by presenting the check to the bank on which the check is drawn. Before collection, the funds are not available to the bank and show up in the cash items in the process of collection account. At the time the funds become available to the bank, the cash Items in the process of collection account is decreased (reverting the original entry), and the bank’s reserves are increased by the same amount. The CIPC account is analogous to the accounts receivable on the balance sheet of a non-financial corporation.


         B) Investments.

The investment portfolios of commercial banks are major use of funds by the banking system. Bank Investments consist of primarily of Treasury Securities, Government Agency Securities and Municipal Securities. Bank investment portfolios serve several important functions.

First, they contain short-term, highly marketable securities that provide liquidity to the bank. These short-term securities are held in lieu of non interest-bearing reserves to the maximum extent possible.

Second, the investment portfolio contains long-term securities that are purchased for their income potential. Their income generating ability is high. However, their marketability and liquidity is low compared to primary & secondary reserves.

Finally, they provide the bank with tax benefits and diversification beyond that possible with only a loan portfolio.


         C. Federal funds sold (National Bank Funds Sold)

They correspond to the lending of excess bank reserves in the Federal Funds market discussed earlier. Banks that sell (lend) excess reserves in the Federal Funds market acquire assets (Federal Funds sold) and lose a corresponding amount of reserves on the balance sheet. Banks that borrow Federal Funds gain reserves but aquire a liability (Federal Funds Purchased). These transactions are reserved when the borrowing bank returns the reserves to the selling bank. A Fed Funds transaction is basically an unsecured loan from one bank to another, usually for a period of one day.  Thus the Fed Funds rate is the inter bank lending rate. 


        D. Other Assets

Fixed assets are the most important group in this category and include such real assets as furniture, banking equipment and the bank’s real estate buildings.  Other items considered as asset items are; prepaid expenses, income earned but not collected, foreign currency holdings, and any direct lease financing.


        E. Bank Loans

Bank loans are the primary business activity of a commercial bank.  They generate the bulk of a bank’s profits and help attract valuable deposits.  Although loans are very profitable to banks, they take time to arrange, are subject to grater default risk, and have less liquidity than most bank investments.  However, they do not have special tax advantage of municipal bonds.

Most bank loans consist of promissory notes.  Repayment can be made

              A)  Periodically, in installment

              B)  In total on a single date

              C)  On demand, only in some cases.

Bank loans can have either a fixed rate of interest for the duration of the loan commitment or a floating -rate.  Banks have increasingly turned toward floating -or variable-rate loans because of the high and volatile interest rates. 

Bank loans may be secured or unsecured.  Most are secured.  The security or collateral may consist of merchandise inventory, accounts receivables, plants and equipments and in some instances, even stocks or bonds.  The Purpose of collateral is to reduce the financial injury to the lender if the borrower defaults. An assets value as collateral depends on its expected resale value.  If a borrower fails to meet the terms and conditions of the promissory note, the bank may sale the collateral assets to recover the loan loss.

Commercial and industrial loans are the biggest component of total bank loans.  This heavily emphasis on commercial and industrial loans is not surprising since banks have a strong comparative advantage in making such loans.  Retail banks, though not the large wholesale banks, make most of their loans to fairly small, local borrowers. Such loan application requires the evolution of some one on the spot.  This gives banks a powerful advantage over large, distant lenders, such as insurance companies.

An important characteristic of bank lending to business is credit rationing.  A bank, unlike other firms, does not stand ready to provide as much of its product, loans, to customers though he/she is willing to pay higher prices.  A seller of an apple, unlike the banker, will normally be happy to provide the buyer with, say,  ten times as much as he/she buys normally, but a bank will usually not be ready to make a loan two times, not ten times, of the normal loan.  Similarly, a bank will not make loans to just any one who applies for, even if he/she is willing to pay an interest rate high enough to off set the fact that this loan may be risky.  Banks ration loans among applicants, both by turning away some loan customers and by limiting the size of loans to others.  A major reason why banks, unlike sellers of utilities, limit the amount of their product, the loans, they provide to each customer is surely that the bank assumes a risk much greater and different from the utility seller.  It hands over its funds, and cannot be certain that it will get them back.

One factor that plays an important role in credit rationing is the existence of customer relationship between the banker and the business borrower.  Most of the business loans that the bank makes are to previous borrowers; business lending is a repeated business.  Firms establish a customer relationship with a particular bank (or in the case of large firm, with several banks) and as long as the arrangement is mutually satisfactory, continue to both borrows from this bank and keep to deposit with it. This customer relationship comprises more than just a borrower- leader relationship; not only does the firm keep its deposit account with the bank it borrows from, but it also uses other services of the bank, such as provision of foreign exchange, the making up of payrolls, etc… Thus services are often as profitable and important for the bank.

This customer relationship implies that the bank has an obligation to take care of the reasonable credit needs of its existing customers.  A bank is therefore not a completely free agent in making loans; it has to accommodate the reasonable demands for loans by its customers.  To do this it may have to turn away other potential customers, even though these new customers would be willing to pay a higher interest rate than do exiting customers.  Similarly, it may have to ration loans among its existing customers rather than turning some of them down altogether.

The maturity of bank loans varies widely.  Short-term loans, that are loans for less than a year, thus some of these loans were renewed automatically and hence were, in effect, long-term loans.

There are three types of loan commitments that may be agreed up on by businesses borrowers and commercial bank; line of credit, term loan and revolving credit. Consumers usually do not inter in to these types of arrangements.  A line of credit is an agreement under which a bank customer can borrow up to a predetermined limit on a short- term basis (less than one year). The line of credit is a moral obligation and not a legal commitment on the part of the bank. Thus, if a company’s circumstances change, a bank may cancel or change the amount of the limit at any time.

A term loan is a formal legal agreement under which a bank will lend a customer a certain amount of money for a period exceeding one year. The loan may be amortized over the life of the loan or paid in a lump sum at maturity.

Revolving credit is a formal legal agreement under which a bank agrees to lend up to a certain limit for a period exceeding one year. A company has the flexibility to borrow, repay or re-borrow as it sees fit during the revolving credit period. At the end of the period, all outstanding loan balances are payable, or, if stipulated, they may be converted into a term loan. In a sense, revolving credit is a long-term, legally binding line of credit. 

Bank loans may also be fixed-rate and floating-rate, Commercial and Industrial, Agricultural, consumer, Real Estate, and loans to other financial intuitions (see the detail under the title “types of loans”).


5.4 Bank Management and profitability    

The main purpose/objective of bank management is for profit. However, profits must be earned without sacrificing bank safety; that is to mean, adequate liquidity and solvency. Further, banks must manage interest rate risk to protect the liquidity and capital position. An understanding of the interrelationships among these important concepts is essential to the proper management of a bank. When a bank’s safety becomes endangered, the consequences can be disastrous.

   5.4.1 A Banking Dilemma: Profitability Versus Safety

As profit maximizing firms, commercial banks can increase profits by taking on more credit risk, interest rate risk or liquidity risk, all of which jeopardizes bank safety.  Bank safety means that the bank survives as a going concern.  Staying in business.  For a bank to survive it has to balance the demand of three constituencies: Shareholders, costumers (depositors) and bank regulator.

If stockholders believe a bank is too risky, they may become dissatisfied with management and sell their stock.  This drives the bank’s stock price lower and making it costly for the bank to raise new capital for growth. They favor a bank that attracts more profit by advancing loans.

If depositors become concerned with amount of risk a bank takes, they may remove their demand deposits or not renew their deposit certificate. This creates liquidity crises for the bank. Customers/depositors favor a bank that is safer than a bank that creates huge loan and endanger its safety.

If bank regulators believe that the action of managers are imprudent they may intervene in the management of the bank, or at the extreme they may revoke the bank’s charter and recommend either merger, nationalization or liquidation of the bank. Bank management can avoid these potential problems by taking very little risk, but then the bank would not be very profitable and in the long run it would likely not survive.

Therefore, the bank faces trade-offs between profitability and safety (liquidity and solvency), which can be discussed as follows.

A. Bank Solvency

A firm is solvent when the value of its assets exceeds the value of its liabilities. The reverse is stated as insolvent, which implies that the firm is legally bankrupt. In order to measure the solvency level of a firm the capital- to-total asset ratio analysis is used. If the capital-to -total asset ratio for a particular bank is about 15 percent, it implies.

  1. The owners of the bank provide only 15 percent of the total funds and the bank’s creditor furnish the remaining 85 percent of the funds to purchase the bank’s total assets.
  2. A slight depreciation in the value of the bank’s assets could make the bank insolvent.

For example, if a particular bank advances its funds in a form of loans, and if 15 percent of the total loan is not collectable, the bank becomes insolvent-bankrupt. Thus, given commercial bank’s extremely low capital position, they are vulnerable to failure if they accept excessive credit risk or interest rate risk.

B. Bank Liquidity

Another risk facing commercial banks is that of inadequate liquidity. Bank liquidity refers to the bank’s ability to accommodate deposit withdrawals and pay off other liabilities as they become due. If a bank has insufficient funds to meet its depositor’s demand, it must close its doors and the bank falls because it is unable to meet their legal obligations to depositors and other creditors.

Fortunately, depositors act differently on daily basis-As some withdraw and push down their deposits; others deposit and build up their deposit accounts. Hence, the bank is required to meet only the difference.


   5.4.2 Reconciling the Dilemma

Commercial banks can fail in two ways. As the bank increases its credit (as it is the banks main function);

       1st .The bank can be a profitable business operation but it may fail because it may not be able to meet the withdrawal demands of its depositors (i.e. liquidity risk)

       2nd .The bank may become insolvent by suffering losses on its asset or investment portfolio (i.e. credit risk or interest rate risk) resulting in a depletion of its capital. The greater a bank’s expected deposit variability, the greater the proportion of liquid assets the bank should hold.

The goal of bank management is to maximize the value of the firm. However, higher profit must not be achieved at the expense of bank safety. So how can the bank reconcile the dilemma?

The main problem for bank management is reconciling the conflicting goals of safety (Solvency and liquidity) on the one hand and profitability on the other. Unfortunately, it is a set of conflicts not easily resolved.

For example liquidity could be achieved by holding more liquid assets like cash, deposit in other bank and treasury securities.  In this strategy, bank management would sleep well but eat poorly because profit would be low.

At the other extreme, the bank could shift its asset portfolio in to high yielding, high-risk loans at the expense of better-quality loans or liquid investment. Bank management would eat well temporarily because of increased profits but would sleep poorly because of the possibility of a bank failure later caused by large loan losses or in adequate liquidity. 

Finally, bank liquidity is ultimately related to bank solvency.  That is, most bank runs are triggered, by depositors and other creditors expectations of extra ordinary losses in the bank’s loan or investments portfolios. 

How do banks attempt to solve the problem of maximizing profits while maintaining adequate liquidity and capital?  This could be done through liquidity management.

Liquidity Management  

Liquidity management is one of the current bank management strategies for maintaining sufficient liquidity and solvency while maximizing over all bank profits.  Reliance on a single source of liquidity is risky, be it shift able, short-term securities or anticipated income from loans. Several important developments in bank liquidity practices have taken place.  The first is asset management; the second is liability management-acquiring liquidity from the liability side of the balance sheet.  In practice, banks obtained liability from both sides of the balance sheet.  Now let us look in to these two approaches one by one.

i) Asset Management

A commercial bank requires liquidity to accommodate deposit withdrawals or to pay other liabilities as they mature.  Payment of withdrawals can be made only from assets.  All cash accounts are available to the bank for payment of immediate withdrawals at no cost of the bank. All other assets must be converted into cash assets.  The conversion process involves time and expense to sell the assets as well the risk that the asset may be sold below their purchase price. This situation is referred as capital or price risk. The liquidity power, income earning capacity and purpose of different assets of the bank are different which can be summarized as follows.

  1. Cash is more liquid than other assets.
  2. Short-term securities are more liquid than long-term securities because of their superior marketability.
  3. Long-term securities are more liquid than term loans because of their superior convertibility.
  4. Short-term investments are more liquid than long term investments because of the smaller price risk.

Because of the different natures of assets, Assets Management classifies bank assets into groups as; primary reserves, secondary reserves, bank loans and investment for income and tax shields.

a. Primary Reserves

Primary reserves are the cash assets on a bank’s balance sheet. They consist of vault cash, deposits at correspondent banks, and deposits held at the central bank. Primary reserves are immediately available at no cost to the bank to accommodate deposit withdrawals. They are none interest yielding asset. Therefore banks try to minimize their holdings of primary reserves.

b. Secondary Reserves

Secondary reserves are short-term assets that can be converted quickly into cash at a price near their purchase price. Their main purpose is to provide that bank with additional liquidity while safely earning some interest income.  Secondary reserves consist of treasury bills, short-term agency securities, bills of exchange, etc. Because the securities that compose secondary reserves are highly marketable and have low default risk, they have yields below the yields of loans and other investment securities held by the bank.

c. Bank Loans  

After the bank has satisfied its unexpected needs for cash, bank management can concentrate on its primary business-making loans to business firms and individuals. Business loans are generally less liquid and riskier than other bank assets and as a result, typically carry the highest yield of all bank assets and offer the greatest potential for profit.

d. Investments

The funds remaining after the bank has satisfied its loan demand is then available for open-market investments. The primary function of the investment portfolio is to provide income and tax advantages to the bank rather than liquidity.  Open -Market investments are typically long-term securities that are less marketable and have higher default risk than secondary reserves. These investments, therefore, offer greater income potential to the bank.  Investments for income include long-term treasury securities, municipal bonds, and agency securities.


The Proper Asset Mix

The proportion of liquid assets a bank should hold brings us back to the dilemma between bank profitability and liquidity.  The greater the proportion of primary and secondary reserves the bank holds, the greater the liquidity of its portfolio. Unfortunately, highly liquid assets that are low in default risk typically have low interest returns.  Over all bank strategy, then is to hold the minimum amounts of primary and secondary reserves consistent with bank safety.  The following table shows assets commonly held in bank asset management strategy and the liquidity-yield trade-off that bank management must make. The total amount of primary and secondary reserves that a bank holds is related to deposit variability, other sources of liquidity, bank regulations, and the risk posture of the bank’s management.  Deposit variability is often determined by examining past deposit behavior particularly in regard to deposit inflows and out flows. Deposit variability also depends on the type of account and bank costumer.  For example, if the past experience shows a high variability in deposit out flows, the bank must hold higher liquid reserves, and vice versa. In addition demand deposits typically are more variable than time deposits and if the numbers of depositors are very few, the higher the possibility of the deposit variability than if the number is many. Other sources of liquidity may refer to the easily availability of liquid assets in the market. If the bankers can raise the required amount of liquidity with less time and cost, it can reserve minimum liquid asset to use the amount to create loans and raise liquid asset only when it is necessary.  The other is the bank regulation. Bank regulators may, sometimes, require banks to keep certain level of reserves, which may be high or low depending on certain conditiones. Therefore, banks will be expected to meet the minimum requirement by the bank regulators. However, if the bank management is a risk taker, the amount of reserve maintained at the bank will be low and if the bank management is some risk averter, it will keep a huge amount of reserve  

summary of asset management strategy

     ii) Liability management

Liability management argues that banks can use the liability side of their balance sheet for liquidity.  Historically, banks had always treated their liability structure as a fixed pool of funds, at least in the short run.  Bank asset holdings were tailored to the deposit variability characteristics of their liabilities.  Under liability management, however, banks target asset growth as given and then adjust their liabilities as needed.  Thus, when a bank needs additional funds for liquidity or any other purpose, it merely buys the funds in the money markets.

The liability management theory is based on the assumption that certain types of bank liabilities are very sensitive to interest rate changes.  Thus, by raising the interest rate paid on these liabilities above the market rate, a bank can immediately attract additional funds.  On the other hand, by lowering the rate paid on these liabilities, a bank may allow funds to run off as the liabilities mature.  Bank liabilities employed in liability management are negotiable certificates of deposits (CDs), Federal funds, Repurchase agreements, Commercial paper, and Eurodollar borrowings.  These securities are sensitive to interest rates, and have markets large enough to accommodate the activities of the commercial banking system.  Other bank liabilities, such as savings accounts or demand deposits are not as interest rate sensitive, and changes in the posted offering rate will not result in notable immediate inflows or outflows of funds.  Long- term debt and bank capital are not appropriate for use in liability management because of the time it takes to bring this securities to market.  The liquidity gained by liability management is use full to a bank in several ways.

First, it can be used to counteract deposit in follows and out follows and reduce their variability. Sudden or unexpected deposit out follows can be offset immediately by the purchase of new funds.

Second, funds attracted through liability management strategy may be used to meet increased demands for loan by the bank’s customers.  Customers need not be denied loans because of a lack of funds.  As long as the expected marginal return of the new loans exceeds the expected marginal cost of funds, the bank can increase its income by acquiring the additional funds through liability management.

Consider the following example.  A bank needs additional funds because of a sudden decrease in deposits or a sudden demand for loans.  Under traditional asset management, the bank would sell Treasury bills or some other money market securities to obtain the needed funds.  In contrast, using liability management, the bank could buy Federal Funds or issue negotiable CDs to obtain the funds.


Summary of Liability Management

Liability management supplements assets management but does not replace it as a source of bank liability.  Asset management still remains the primary source of liquidity for banks, particularly smaller banks. If used properly, liability management allows banks to reduce their secondary reserve holdings and invest these funds in higher yield assets, such as loans or long-term municipal bonds.  Liability management is not well suited to smaller banks, because they do not have direct access to the wholesale money markets where liability management is practiced.  Liability management is not a panacea for bank liquidity problems.  There may be times when banks are unable to attract or retain funds through liability management because of tight credit periods or because of uncertainty about the soundness of a particular bank.  Because of some large bank failures, in recent years, lenders have become particularly sensitive to the issue of bank safety.



Commercial Banks are profit-maximizing business firms whose primary source of income is interest earned on loans and investment securities. Like all business firms, banks strive for higher profits. The trade-off between profitability and safety is more acute for banks than for most other businesses because banks have low capital-to-assets ratios and because most bank liabilities are short-term.

Banks have two basic tools for maintaining sufficient liquidity: 1) Asset Management and  2) Liability Management. Under asset management, banks use liquidity stored on the asset side of the balance sheet in the form of excess reserves and marketable securities. Under liability management, banks obtain liquidity by increasing liabilities such as Federal Funds or by issuing certificates of deposits.

Banks are required by law to maintain minimum reserves equal to a percentage of their deposits and designated as non-deposit liabilities.



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