Following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank last week there has been considerable discussion about whether and how the regulatory regime might be strengthened (or actually more effectively implemented) to prevent such collapses (yet again) in the future. Raising deposit insurance coverage to 100% of all deposits is being suggested (and was provided ad hoc to SVB and Signature Bank this week). Econ 101: SVB and bank runs – Warren’s space (wcoats.blog)
Insuring all deposits and adopting the Chicago Plan represent two very different approaches to removing all risk of loss to depositors and thus any incentive to run from a bank. In the search for regulatory or market checks on excessive bank risk taking or poor management, the expectation that depositors would carefully monitor the behavior and condition of their banks was never realistic. Thus, removing any financial incentive for such due diligence by raising deposit insurance to cover all deposits would have little to no impact on bank behavior. Such scrutiny by bank shareholders and managers is much more realist and thus important. US bank bankruptcy procedures do not spare shareholders, who in the case of SVB have lost everything. However, more might be done to impose losses on managers of insolvent banks.
Following the bankruptcy of SVB considerable attention has rightly focused on the speed with which facts or rumors of a bank’s weakening financial condition can spread over the Internet. What might have taken weeks as depositors began to line up outside their banks to withdraw their deposits while the funds lasted, now takes minutes, dramatically accelerating the speed with which a bank must try to liquidate enough of its assets to fund the withdrawals.
Full deposit insurance and the Chicago Plan of 100% reserve banking (deposits at the central bank, which are always safe and instantly available) eliminate any incentive for bank runs. But the difference between them deserves more attention. The full deposit insurance approach puts the cost of bailing out the depositors of a failed bank on the rest of the banking system (on the “good” banks) who finance the insurance fund. The cost of the Chicago Plan, if indeed it is a cost at all rather than a benefit, is the need for banks to fund their credit operations with equity or long-term debt, rather than with potentially volatile deposits. We should move to the Chicago Plan and fully separate money from credit.