The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System
Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has become increasingly centralized.
In the modern system, central banks now control everything from interest rates to the issuance of currency, while government regulators, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations wield unparalleled influence at the top of this crucial food chain.
There is no doubt that this centralization has led to the creation of massive amounts of wealth, especially to those properly connected to the financial system. However, the same centralization has also arguably contributed to many global challenges and risks we face today.
Flaws of the Global Financial System
Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights the seven major flaws of the global financial system, ranging from the lack of basic access to financial services to growing inequality.
1. Billions of people globally remain unbanked
To participate in the global financial sector, whether it is to make a digital payment or manage one’s wealth, one must have access to a bank account. However, 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked, having zero access to an account with a financial institution or a mobile money provider.
2. Global financial literacy remains low
For people to successfully use financial services and markets, they must have some degree of financial literacy. According to a recent global survey, just 1-in-3 people show an understanding of basic financial concepts, with most of these people living in high income economies.
Without an understanding of key concepts in finance, it makes it difficult for the majority of the population to make the right decisions – and to build wealth.
3. High intermediary costs and slow transactions
Once a person has access to financial services, sending and storing money should be inexpensive and fast.
However, just the opposite is true. Around the globe, the average cost of a remittance is 7.01% in fees per transaction – and when using banks, that rises to 10.53%. Even worse, these transactions can take days at a time, which seems quite unnecessary in today’s digital era.
4. Low trust in financial institutions and governments
The financial sector is the least trusted business sector globally, with only a 57% level of trust according to Edelman. Meanwhile, trust in governments is even lower, with only 40% trusting the U.S. government, and the global country average sitting at 47%.
5. Rising global inequality
In a centralized system, financial markets tend to be dominated by those who are best connected to them.
These are people who have:
- Access to many financial opportunities and asset classes
- Capital to deploy
- Informational advantages
- Access to financial expertise
In fact, according to recent data on global wealth concentration, the top 1% own 47% of all household wealth, while the top 10% hold roughly 85%.
On the other end of the spectrum, the vast majority of people have little to no financial assets to even start building wealth. Not only are many people living paycheck to paycheck – but they also don’t have access to assets that can create wealth, like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs.
6. Currency manipulation and censorship
In a centralized system, countries have the power to manipulate and devalue fiat currencies, and this can have a devastating effect on markets and the lives of citizens.
In Venezuela, for example, the government has continually devalued its currency, creating runaway hyperinflation as a result. The last major currency manipulation in 2018 increased the price of a cup of coffee by over 772,400% in six months.
Further, centralized power also gives governments and financial institutions the ability to financially censor citizens, by taking actions such as freezing accounts, denying access to payment systems, removing funds from accounts, and denying the retrieval of funds during bank runs.
7. The build-up of systemic risk
Finally, centralization creates one final and important drawback.
With financial power concentrated with just a select few institutions, such as central banks and “too big too fail” companies, it means that one abject failure can decimate an entire system.
This happened in 2008 as U.S. subprime mortgages turned out to be an Achilles Heel for bank balance sheets, creating a ripple effect throughout the globe. Centralization means all eggs in one basket – and if that basket breaks it can possibly lead to the destruction of wealth on a large scale.
The Future of the Global Financial System?
The risks and drawbacks of centralization to the global financial system are well known, however there has never been much of a real alternative – until now.
With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet access, as well as the development of decentralization technologies like the blockchain, it may be possible to build an entirely new financial system.
But is the world ready?
The World’s Most Valuable Bank Brands
These charts visualize the most valuable bank brands around the world, while also showing the rise of China’s financial services sector over time.
Visualizing The World’s Most Valuable Bank Brands
When most people think about brands, they often picture iconic consumer marks like Coca-Cola or Apple.
But in the realm of financial services, the importance of having a strong consumer brand is also rapidly growing. After all, with hundreds of new fintech entrants positioning themselves to be the “banks” of the future, it seems that brand awareness may be one of the major competitive advantages that incumbent banks can use to protect themselves.
Which financial institutions have the strongest brands, and which brands are the most valuable?
Valuable Bank Brands in 2019
Today’s chart looks at the world’s most valuable bank brands, according to a recent report from Brand Finance.
It should be noted that brand value in this context is a measure of the “value of the trade mark and associated marketing IP within the branded business”. In other words, it’s measuring the value of intangible marketing assets, and not the overall worth of a business itself.
Here are the top bank brands by value in 2019:
For the third year in a row, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) takes the top spot, with a brand value of $79.8 billion.
Wells Fargo is the top U.S. bank by brand value, coming in 5th place – however, the bank actually fell two spots from last year’s ranking while simultaneously losing 9% of its brand value. This is not surprising in light of the recent publicity challenges faced by the bank.
The Ascent of Chinese Banks
It’s also interesting to note that Chinese banks have taken all four of the top spots on the list, with ICBC, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Bank of China having a combined brand value of over $250 billion.
Here’s a look at the ascent of Chinese banks over time:
In contrast, in the entire span of 2009-2014, there were zero Chinese banks that cracked the top five.
The Strongest Bank Brands
Finally, here is a look at the strongest bank brands.
It’s worth noting that in contrast to value, these are banks that have executed on their branding, marketing, and sales strategies to have brands that ultimately create a competitive advantage for their business.
Brand Finance measures brand strength by looking at a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance.
For more insights, don’t forget to check out Brand Finance’s report.
A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Canada vs. U.S.
The U.S. and Canadian banking systems are similar, but also quite different. See how they compare in terms of the number of banks, size, and many other factors.
A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Canada vs. U.S.
Regardless of which side of the 49th parallel you are on, banking sectors play a crucial role in both the financial system and the economy.
But while banks on each side of the border perform many similar functions, and have comparable economic impacts, the fact is that the U.S. and Canadian banking systems are very different.
Comparing Canadian and U.S. Banks
Today’s infographic comes to us from RBC Global Asset Management and it compares Canadian and U.S. banks directly based on a variety of factors.
The histories of both banking sectors are contrasted, but subjects such as the regulatory environments, market forces, the number and size of banks, and post-crisis landscapes are also compared. An outlook for investors on both sectors is also provided.
The end result is an interesting depiction of two banking sectors that are related in many ways, but that also have distinct differences and ways of doing business.
Historically, the Canadian banking system favors a limited quantity of banks, and many branches. It also carries the British influence of valuing stability over experimentation. Meanwhile, U.S. banking is more decentralized and localized, and more open to experimentation. This has led to trial and error, but also the world’s largest bank system.
Canada’s banking system tends to promote safety and soundness, while the American system keys in on privacy, anti-money laundering, banking access, and consumer protection measures.
The Canadian market is worth C$142 billion (US$111 billion) per year, while the U.S. market is over 10x bigger at US$1.4 trillion. Interestingly, these market sizes explain why Canadian banks often seek growth opportunities in the U.S. market, while U.S. banks just focus on the massive domestic sector for growth.
Number of Banks
There are 85 banks in Canada, and 4,938 in the United States.
Canada’s five biggest banks hold a whopping 89% of market share, while America’s five biggest banks only hold 35% of market share.
Canada’s “Big Five” Banks:
RBC: C$142 billion
TD: C$130 billion
Scotia: C$93 billion
BMO: C$62 billion
CIBC: C$49 billion
The Biggest Four Banks in the U.S.:
JPMorgan Chase: US$377 billion
Bank of America: US$310 billion
Wells Fargo: US$260 billion
Citigroup: US$179 billion
In Canada, there are no other institutions worth over C$25 billion, but in the States there are eight that are worth between US$50-$100 billion.
Outlook for Investors
Not only are the two banking environments quite different in terms of character – but Canadian and U.S. banks are at different points in their market cycles, as well.
Banks in Canada were minimally impacted by the Financial Crisis, and have been permitted to use lower risk weights than U.S. Banks. As a result, they’ve been able to hold less capital for each loan (i.e. higher leverage)
Banks in the U.S. have spent the past number of years building capital. Regulators required U.S. banks to be conservative in their approach post-crisis. As a result, U.S. banks have lower leverage than Canadian peers.
Canada’s “Big Five”:
Five Biggest U.S. Banks:
Canadian Banks: 3.9%
S&P/TSX Composite: 2.9%
Top 15 U.S. Banks: 2.5%
S&P 500: 2.1%
Which Sector Should Investors Choose?
There are compelling reasons to consider the financial institutions of either country:
- Canadian banks have a proven track-record of delivering steady dividends that have grown over time.
- Canadian banks have a strong global reputation for reliability and safety due to Canada’s sound regulatory framework and their relatively risk-averse approach.
- Canadian bank stocks can also be a good source of consistent income, with dividends that pay higher than the market. Canadians also doubly benefit, since to the Canadian dividend tax credit.
- U.S. banks have significantly improved their balance sheets and capital structure over the past decade to be better positioned for future market cycles.
- Stronger U.S. economic growth combined with changing monetary policy creates a positive environment for U.S. banks to benefit from increased business and consumer demand and wider interest rate spreads.
- Recent tax cuts and deregulation are likely to benefit U.S. banks, as savings stand to contribute to earnings per share, and potentially lead to higher dividend payouts along with share buybacks.
Canadian and U.S. banks are similar in many ways – but their differing histories, competitive frameworks, and economic environments each provide unique exposure for investors.
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