Friday, February 27, 2009
How Banks Work
The funny thing about how a bank works is that it functions because of our trust. We give a bank our money to keep it safe for us, and then the bank turns around and gives it to someone else in order to make money for itself. Banks can legally extend considerably more credit than they have cash. Still, most of us have total trust in the bank's ability to protect our money and give it to us when we ask for it.
How do banks make money?
Banks are just like other businesses. Their product just happens to be money. Other businesses sell widgets or services; banks sell money -- in the form of loans, certificates of deposit (CDs) and other financial products. They make money on the interest they charge on loans because that interest is higher than the interest they pay on depositors' accounts. The interest rate a bank charges its borrowers depends on both the number of people who want to borrow and the amount of money the bank has available to lend. At the same time, it may also be affected by the funds rate, which is the interest rate that banks charge each other for short-term loans to meet their reserve requirements.
Loaning money is also inherently risky. A bank never really knows if it'll get that money back. Therefore, the riskier the loan the higher the interest rate the bank charges. While paying interest may not seem to be a great financial move in some respects, it really is a small price to pay for using someone else's money. Imagine having to save all of the money you needed in order to buy a house. We wouldn't be able to buy houses until we retired!
Banks also charge fees for services like checking, ATM access and overdraft protection. Loans have their own set of fees that go along with them. Another source of income for banks is investments and securities.
Why does banking work?
Banking is all about trust. We trust that the bank will have our money for us when we go to get it. We trust that it will honor the checks we write to pay our bills. The thing that's hard to grasp is the fact that while people are putting money into the bank every day, the bank is lending that same money and more to other people every day. Banks consistently extend more credit than they have cash. That's a little scary; but if you go to the bank and demand your money, you'll get it.
The key to the success of banking, however, still lies in the confidence that consumers have in the bank's ability to grow and protect their money. Because banks rely so heavily on consumer trust, and trust depends on the perception of integrity, the banking industry is highly regulated by the government.
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