The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies
When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.
Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.
But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.
In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.
What’s a Reserve Currency?
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?
In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:
- To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
- To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
- To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
- To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
- To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk
Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.
Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.
Reserve Currencies Over Time
Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:
|🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar||🇪🇺 Euro||🇯🇵 Japanese Yen||🇬🇧 Pound Sterling||🌐 Other|
Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.
Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.
The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.
Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.
There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.
While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.
What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?
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.
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)
|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.
|Country||RARC/GDP||Loans Penetration/GDP||Margins (RBRC/Total Loans)||Risk Cost Margin|
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:
|Country||Retail Loans||Wholesale Loans||Loan Penetration (Total)|
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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?
Why Anti-Money Laundering Should Be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions
Anti-money laundering cost financial institutions about $25.3B in 2018. How can organizations improve their processes & gain a competitive advantage?
Why AML Should be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions
The to-do list for any financial executive is surely daunting. From navigating technology changes to managing talent effectively, there’s many initiatives competing for attention.
One issue that’s been in the headlines for many years is anti-money laundering (AML). When criminals are able to successfully hide the illicit origins of their cash, both the financial institution and society suffer. So, what makes AML more important now than it has been in the past?
Rising up the Priority Ladder
Today’s infographic from McKinsey & Company explains the factors which have brought anti-money laundering urgently to the forefront in recent years.
1. Regulatory Action
Enforcement actions related to AML have been on the rise. Since 2009, regulators have levied approximately $32 billion in AML-related fines globally.
2. Threat Evolution
Criminals are using more sophisticated means to remain undetected, including globally-coordinated technology, insider information, and e-commerce schemes.
3. Reputational Risk
AML incidents put a financial institution’s reputation on the line. There’s a lot at stake: today, the average value of each of the top 10 bank brands is $45B.
4. Rising Costs
Most AML activities require significant manual effort, making them inefficient and difficult to scale. In 2018, it cost U.S. financial services firms about $25.3B to manage money laundering risk.
5. Poor Customer Experience
Compliance staff must have multiple touch points with a customer to gather and verify information. Perhaps not surprisingly, one in three financial institutions have lost potential customers due to inefficient or slow onboarding processes.
It’s no wonder anti-money laundering has now become a top priority for many CEOs in the financial industry.
A Wave of Innovation
In the last five years, there has been an explosion of “RegTech” startups—companies that address regulatory requirements using technology.
Global RegTech Investments, 2014-2018
|Year||Amount Invested (USD)|
Over 60% of these are focused on solving Know Your Customer (KYC) and AML issues. What does this technology look like in practice?
A hypothetical U.S. retail firm, ABC Electronics, applies online to open an account at AML Innovators Bank. Their information is verified and screened using a fully automated process.
If they are determined to be a lower-risk client, they will be fast-tracked through the approval process with decisioning in six hours or less. For high-risk clients, decisioning occurs within about 72 hours.
ABC Electronics requests to send multiple international wire payments to various beneficiaries. Each transaction is automatically screened based on various factors:
- A same name or subsidiary transfer carries the lowest risk
- Transfers to a known, similar industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry medium risk
- Transfers to an unknown industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry high risk
These transaction scores, combined with algorithms that track a client’s expected vs. actual transaction behavior, will update ABC Electronics’ risk rating in real time.
As risk updates occur, ABC Electronics’ rating is integrated into AML Innovator Bank’s overall portfolio risk.
Senior risk management teams will be able to view a heat map that highlights the highest risk areas of the business.
Structural Change, Big Gains
Just as financial crimes continue to evolve, so do AML schemes.
How can organizations stay ahead of the game? They can focus on actively managing risk, deliberately investing in technology and analytics, and prioritizing areas where RegTechs will have the highest near-term impact.
By investing in AML, financial institutions create competitive advantages:
- Improved efficiency
- Superior customer experience
- Readiness to adapt to new regulations
- Reduced reputational risk
- Ability to attract top talent
With such benefits on the table, one thing is clear: Anti-money laundering efforts are more important now than they have ever been.
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