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The History of Consumer Credit in One Giant Infographic

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Consumer credit may seem like a fairly new invention – but it’s actually been around for more than 5,000 years!

In fact, many millennia before the credit score became ubiquitous, there is historical evidence that cultures around the world were borrowing for various reasons. From the writings in Hammurabi’s Code to the exchanges documented by the Ancient Romans, we know that credit was used for purposes such as getting enough silver to buy a property or for agricultural loans made to farmers.

Consumer Credit: 3,500 B.C. to Today

In today’s infographic from Equifax, we look at the long history of consumer credit – everything from the earliest writings of antiquity to the modern credit boom that started in the 20th century.

Part 1: The History of Consumer CreditPart 2: Modern CreditPart 3: Future
The History of Consumer Credit in One Giant Infographic
Part 1: The History of Consumer CreditPart 2: Modern CreditPart 3: Future

Consumer credit has evolved considerably from the early days.

Over the course of several millennia, there have been credit booms, game-changing innovations, and even periods such as the Dark Ages when the practice of charging interest (also known as “usury”) was considered immoral by some people.

A Timeline of Consumer Credit

Below is a timeline of the significant events that have helped lead to the modern consumer credit boom, in which Americans now have over $12.4 trillion borrowed through mortgages, credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and other types of credit.

The Ancients and Credit

3,500 BC – Sumer
Sumer was the first urban civilization – with about 89% of its population living in cities. It is thought that here consumer loans, used for agricultural purposes, were first used.

1,800 BC – Babylon
The Code of Hammurabi was written, formalizing the first known laws around credit. Hammurabi established the maximum interest rates that could be used legally: 33.3% per year on loans of grain, and 20% per year on loans of silver. To be valid, loans had to be witnessed by a public official and recorded as a contract.

50 BC – The Roman Republic
Around this time, Cicero noted that his neighbor bought 625 acres of land for 11.5 million sesterces.

Did this person literally carry 11.5 tons of coins through the streets of Rome? No, it was done through credit and paper. Cicero writes “nomina facit, negotium conficit” – or, “he uses credit to complete the purchase”.

Moral Concerns About Lending

800 – The Dark Ages in Europe
After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, economic activity grinded to a halt. The Church even banned usury, the practice of charging interest on loans, for all laymen under Charlemagne’s rule (768-814 AD).

1500 – The Age of Discovery
As European explorers and merchants begin trade missions to faraway lands, the need for capital and credit increases.

1545 – England
After the Reformation, the first country to establish a legal rate of interest was England in 1545 during the reign of Henry VIII. The rate was set at 10%.

1787 – England
Philosopher Jeremy Bentham writes a treatise called “A Defense of Usury”, arguing that restrictions on interest rates harm the ability to raise capital for innovation. If risky, new ventures cannot be funded, then growth becomes limited.

The Birth of Modern Consumer Credit

1803 – England
Credit reporting itself originated in England in the early 19th century. The earliest available account is that of a group of English tailors that came together to swap information on customers who failed to settle their debts.

1826 – England
The Manchester Guardian Society is formed, and later begins issuing a monthly newsletter with information about people who fail to pay their debts.

1841 – New York
The Mercantile Agency is founded, and starts systemizing rumors about the character and assets held by debtors through a network of correspondents. Massive ledgers in New York City are made, though these reports were heavily subjective and biased.

1864 – New York
The Mercantile Agency is renamed the R. G. Dun and Company on the eve of the Civil War, and finalizes an alphanumeric system for tracking creditworthiness of companies that would remain in use until the twentieth century.

1899 – Atlanta
The Retail Credit Company was founded, and begins compiling an extensive list of creditworthy customers. Later on, the company would change its name to Equifax. Today, it is the oldest of the three major credit agencies today in the United States.

The Consumer Credit Boom

1908 – Detroit
Henry Ford’s Model T makes automobiles accessible to the “great multitude” of people, but they were still too expensive to buy with cash for most families.

1919 – Detroit
GM solves this problem by loaning consumers the money they need to buy a new car. General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) is founded and popularizes the idea of installment plan financing. Consumers can now get a new car with just a 35% downpayment at time of financing.

1930 – United States
By this time, efficient U.S. factories are pumping out cheaper consumer products and appliances. Following the lead of GM, now washing machines, furniture, refrigerators, phonographs, and radios can be bought on installment plans. It’s also worth noting that in this period, 2/3 of all autos are bought on installment plans.

The First in Big Data

1950 – United States
By 1950, typical middle-class Americans already had revolving credit accounts at different merchants. Maintaining several different cards and monthly payments was inconvenient, and created a new opportunity.

At the same time, Diners Club introduces their charge card, which helps open the floodgates for other consumer credit products.

1955 – United States
Early credit reporters use millions of index cards, sorted in a massive filing system, to keep track of consumers around the country. To get the latest information, agencies would scour local newspapers for notices of arrests, promotions, marriages, and deaths, attaching this information to individual credit files.

1958 – United States
BankAmericard (now Visa) is “dropped” in Fresno, California. American Express and Mastercard soon follow, offering Americans general credit for a wide range of purchases.

1960 – United States
At a time when the technology was limited to filing cabinets, the postage meter, and the telephone, American credit bureaus issued 60 million credit reports in a single year.

1964– United States
The Association of Credit Bureaus in the U.S. conducts the first studies into the application of computer technologies to credit reporting. Accuracy of data is also improved around this time by standardizing credit application forms.

1970 – United States
The first Fair Credit Reporting Act is passed in the United States. It establishes a standard legal framework for credit reporting agencies.

1980s – United States
The three biggest credit bureaus attain universal coverage across the country.

1989 – United States
The FICO score is introduced, and quickly becomes a standard system to measure credit scores based on objective factors and data.

2006 – United States
VantageScore is created through a joint-venture between the top three credit scoring agencies. This new consumer credit-scoring model is used by 10% of the market, and 6 of the 10 largest banks use VantageScore.

Modern Credit

The Information Age has enabled a new era in consumer credit and assessing risk – and today, credit reports are used to inform decisions about housing, employment, insurance, and the cost of utilities.

Learn more about how data, the internet, and modern computing is changing credit in Part 2 of this series.

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Debt

Visualizing the Meteoric Rise of Bond ETFs

Bonds are a staple in every portfolio, but up until recently were hard to own. Here’s how bond ETFs changed that, reaching $1 trillion in global AUM.

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Visualizing the Meteoric Rise of Bond ETFs

Bonds are a staple in almost any investment portfolio — but up until very recently, they weren’t exactly the easiest thing to own.

Despite the bond market being bigger than the equities market, bonds mostly trade over-the-counter (OTC) and not on any centralized exchange.

In fact, traders mostly swapped bonds over the phone, negotiating prices and making deals. However, this “old school” approach came with several disadvantages, including high transaction costs, illiquidity, and a lack of true transparency in the market.

A New Way to Play

Today’s infographic comes to us from iShares, and it shows that over the last two decades, the bond market has been dramatically transformed and democratized from the “old school” approach that relied on phones, traders, and giant bond calculators.

The biggest factor in this transition: the use of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the bond market, which just hit a new global milestone of $1 trillion of AUM in June 2019.

Let’s look at the journey of how this rapidly rising segment of the market took off, the factors driving it, and what the future may hold for Bond ETFs.

Bond ETFs: Journey to $1 Trillion

Below is a year-by-year account of new innovations in bond ETFs, and how the usage of them has changed over time:

2002: New tech

A new financial technology, the ETF, shakes up the bond market for the first time – and the first fixed income ETFs launch in the United States.

2003: More variety

Just one year in, and there are already numerous types of bond ETFs that allow investors to fulfill different portfolio needs:

  • Government bond ETFs
  • TIPS ETFs
  • Corporate bond ETFs
  • Aggregate bond ETFs

2006: Achievement unlocked

The global bond ETF industry hits $25 billion in AUM.

2007: Bond ETF innovations

The bond ETF universe continues to expand as investors demand even more options:

  • Mortgage-backed security bond ETFs
  • Muni bond ETFs
  • High yield bond ETFs

2008: A new source of liquidity

Liquidity for individual bonds dries up during the 2008 Financial Crisis. However, bond ETFs step up to the plate by providing a new source of liquidity and volume increases, allowing investors to efficiently access fixed income markets.

2010: More precise strategies

The first term-maturity ETFs launch. These special bond ETFs specifically hold bonds that all mature in the exact same year.

2012: Achievement unlocked

The global bond ETF industry hits $250 billion in AUM.

2015: More product innovation

At this time, factor-based bond ETFs start to hit the mainstream. These use a rules-based approach to employ multiple investment factors, such as low volatility, quality, value, or momentum.

2016: Achievement unlocked

The global bond ETF industry hits $500 billion in AUM.

2017: Green bonds

Green bonds ETFs provide investors with the ability to invest in bonds that are tied to sustainability purposes.

2018: Market volatility and bond ETFs

In the second half of 2018, markets get volatile and investors turn to bond ETFs to help reduce their overall portfolio risk, specifically diversifying their exposure to stocks.

2019: Achievement unlocked

The global bond ETF industry hits $1 trillion in AUM, with now over 1,300 bond ETFs available.

The Path to $2 Trillion?

In just 17 years, bond ETFs have grown to be a significant part of the investment universe, reaching $1 trillion AUM in 2019.

Impressively, it won’t likely take long to double the last milestone. According to BlackRock, it’s anticipated that ETFs will hold $2 trillion in AUM by the year 2024 — just a few short years down the road.

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Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

Last year, the global banking industry cashed in an impressive $1.36 trillion in profits. Here’s where they made their money, and how it breaks down.

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Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

Profits in banking have been steadily on the rise since the financial crisis.

Just last year, the global banking industry cashed in an impressive $1.36 trillion in after-tax profits ⁠— the highest total in the sector seen in the last 20 years.

What are the drivers behind revenue and profits in the financial services sector, and where do the biggest opportunities exist in the future?

Following the Money

Today’s infographic comes to us from McKinsey & Company, and it leverages proprietary insights from their Panorama database.

Using data stemming from more than 60 countries, we’ve broken down historical banking profits by region, while also visualizing key ratios that help demonstrate why specific countries are more profitable for the industry.

Finally, we’ve also looked at the particular geographic regions that may present the biggest opportunities in the future, and why they are relevant today.

Banking Profits, by Region

Before we look at what’s driving banking profits, let’s start with a breakdown of annual after-tax profits by region over time.

Banking Profit by Year and Region ($B)

 2009201020112012201320142015201620172018
Global ($B)$388$530$635$703$859$963$1,070$1,065$1,144$1,356
United States$19$118$176$263$268$263$291$275$270$403
China$95$135$174$225$255$278$278$270$301$333
Western Europe$78$34$21-$70$28$95$154$159$186$198
Rest of World$196$243$265$285$309$327$348$361$387$421

In 2018, the United States accounted for $403 billion of after-tax profits in the banking sector ⁠— however, China sits in a very close second place, raking in $333 billion.

What’s Under the Hood?

While there’s no doubt that financial services can be profitable in almost any corner of the globe, what is less obvious is where this profit actually comes from.

The truth is that banking can vary greatly depending on location ⁠— and what drives value for banks in one country may be completely different from what drives value in another.

Let’s look at data and ratios from four very different places to get a sense of how financial services markets can vary.

CountryRARC/GDPLoans Penetration/GDPMargins (RBRC/Total Loans)Risk Cost Margin
Global Average5.1%124%5.0%0.8%
United States5.4%121%5.0%0.4%
China6.6%147%6.0%1.4%
Singapore13.0%316%4.6%0.4%
Finland3.4%133%2.8%0.2%

1. RARC / GDP (Revenues After Risk Costs / GDP)
This ratio shows compares a country’s banking revenues to overall economic production, giving a sense of how important banking is to the economy. Using this, you can see that banking is far more important to Singapore’s economy than others in the table.

2. Loans Penetration / GDP
Loans penetration can be further broken up into retail loans and wholesale loans. The difference can be immediately seen when looking at data on China and the United States:

CountryRetail LoansWholesale LoansLoan Penetration (Total)
United States73%48%121%
China34%113%147%

In America, banks make loans primarily to the retail sector. In China, there’s a higher penetration on a wholesale basis — usually loans being made to corporations or other such entities.

3. Margins (Revenues Before Risk Costs / Total Loans)
Margins made on lending is one way for bankers to gauge the potential of a market, and as you can see above, margins in the United States and China are both at (or above) the global average. Meanwhile, for comparison, Finland has margins that are closer to half of the global average.

4. Risk Cost Margin (Risk Cost / Total Loans)
Not surprisingly, China still holds higher risk cost margins than the global average. On the flipside, established markets like Singapore, Finland, and the U.S. all have risk margins below the global average.

Future Opportunities in Banking

While this data is useful at breaking down existing markets, it can also help to give us a sense of future opportunities as well.

Here are some of the geographic markets that have the potential to grow into key financial services markets in the future:

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa
    Despite having 16x the population of South Africa, the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa still generates fewer banking profits. With lower loan penetration rates and RARC/GDP ratios, there is significant potential to be found throughout the continent.
  2. India and Indonesia
    Compared to similar economies in Asia, both India and Indonesia present an interesting banking opportunity because of their high margins and low loan penetration rates.
  3. China
    While China has a high overall loan penetration rate, the retail loan category still holds much potential given the country’s population and growing middle class.

A Changing Landscape in Banking

As banks shift focus to face new market challenges, the next chapter of banking may be even more interesting than the last.

Add in the high stakes around digital transformation, aging populations, and new service opportunities, and the distance between winners and losers could lengthen even more.

Where will the money in banking be in the future?

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