A major shift in American politics has taken place. All three of the remaining mainstream Democratic presidential candidates now agree that the existing state of the financial sector is not satisfactory and that more change is needed. President Barack Obama has long regarded the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation as bringing about sufficient change. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Governor Martin O’Malley want to do even more.
The three leading Democratic candidates disagree, however, on whether there should be legislation to re-erect a wall between the rather dull business of ordinary commercial banking and other kinds of finance (such as issuing and trading securities, commonly known as investment banking).
One of the primary purposes of financial statements is to facilitate the exchange of capital between investors and companies. The extent to which investors rely on the information reported in financial statements depends on the credibility of those financial statements – that is, the trust or faith investors have in the financial statements presented to them. Typically, companies establish the credibility of their financial statements by having an independent auditor verify the accuracy of those disclosures. However, the effect of auditing on financial statement credibility depends on the independence of the auditor and the rigor with which the audit is performed. An increase in reporting credibility can increase the degree to which investors rely on financial statement information for both writing debt (and other) contracts that govern the terms under which capital is exchanged and informing investors about companies’ operations and performance. As a result, an increase in reporting credibility can increase the company’s access to external finance, which can increase its ability to invest in new projects.
Bitcoin heralds a new age more disruptive than that of today’s Internet. Disruption can be a good thing, especially when it affects banking, a failing set of business models which, for all the tweaks, have been virtually unchanged for millennia. Paradoxically, some banks are afraid of Bitcoin because it would force them to innovate.
Bitcoin is but the most famous example of an emerging technology network with the potential to improve banking. It belongs to the new type of financial animal called crypto currencies, i.e. decentralized, secure money storage and money transfer enabled by the Internet. What Bitcoin, and the even more promising Ripple network do, is not to poke a hole in banking’s basic business models—lending, deposits, trading, and money exchange—but to create the embryos for entirely new markets typically referred to as the Internet of Value. That is, a way for regular folks, as well as specialists, to potentially monetize everything, regardless of location, traditional market access and jurisdiction.
Cryptocurrencies have been with us for over five years, an eternity by Internet time. Using the elegance of mathematics they enable almost instant transfer of value at almost no cost between two parties without the need for a trusted third party. The disruption lies exactly there: in disrupting the intermediaries.
For a few years already, we have been talking about the sharing economy. Companies like AirBnb and Uber have enabled previously untapped, idle assets such as your empty bedroom or your second car to be mobilized for financial gain. Liquidizing such stale assets has added convenience in the utterly inefficient markets of room rentals and transportation services.
This year is ending the way it began for taxpayers without any sign of relief from the repeated burden of bailing out the banks during the financial crises and continued pressure to modify the Dodd-Frank Act in ways that favor bankers and lessen protections for taxpayers.
A year of continued concessions to the financial industry included: delaying a Dodd-Frank mandate that financial firms sell off bundled debt, known as collateralized loan obligations; exempting some private equity firms from registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission; and loosening regulations on derivatives. The recent requirement that banks increase their capital ratio to 16% or 18% in the next few years still leaves the taxpayer responsible for the remaining 80% of the losses.
Ask people on the street what mental image they associate with the words “stock exchange,” and you’ll likely hear about a large imposing building in the middle of New York or Chicago. Inside the building there is a huge space crowded with traders in multicolored jackets screaming and gesticulating to each other.
Until ten years ago, that would have been a pretty accurate description of a stock exchange. Today, however, almost all trading is done by algorithms firing digital commands traveling near the speed of light to rows upon rows of computer servers sitting in nondescript suburban warehouses.
The transition from human to electronic trading came with the promise of using faster and cheaper technology to drastically lower the costs of trading shares and to make it much easier to determine the most up-to-date prices for all market participants (commonly known as price discovery).