Guest Post: Do We Even Need a Banking Sector? Not Any More

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Do We Even Need a Banking Sector? Not Any More  

An automated banking utility has no need for parasitic bankers or politicos or indeed, a central bank.

Do we need a banking sector dominated by politically untouchable "Too Big to Fail" (TBTF) banks? Thanks to fast-advancing technology, the answer is a resounding no. Not only do we not need a banking sector, we would be immensely better off were the banking sector to wither and vanish from the face of the Earth, along with its parasitic class of political enablers, toadies and Federal Reserve apparatchiks.

The key to understanding why big banks have outlived their purpose is to grasp the implications of computing power, self-organizing networks and crowdsourcing. Banks came into existence to manage the accumulation of capital (savings) and distribute the capital to borrowers in a prudent manner that minimized risk and still yielded a return for savers and the bank's investors/owners.

Back in the pre-computer era, the record-keeping and risk management processes of these two core functions required a complex bureaucracy and a concentration of accounting skills and lending experience. The costs of operating this record-keeping and risk management bureaucracy was high, and these costs justified the bank's fees and interest rate spread. In an idealized scenario, a bank might pay depositors 3% annual yield on their savings and charge borrowers 5%. The 2% spread was the bank's to keep for performing the accounting, collection and risk management functions.

Today, computers running scripts/programs can perform these functions with minimal human oversight and at very low cost. The tracking and recording of millions of transactions and accounts no longer requires thousands of clerks and a large institutional bureaucracy; a relative handful of software engineers are all that's needed to maintain these services, which are in effect a low-cost utility.

Risk management and lending are also computerized; the human interface of a banker is a bow to tradition, not necessity. Crowdsourced funding is entirely computerized: those with money/capital choose to join a pool of lenders who accept the risk of lending to an individual, household, project or enterprise for a specified return.

This process of aligning excess capital (savings) with borrowers is already automated. Is there a role for regulation? Absolutely: such a system requires transparency that can be trusted. Those who violate this trust with cooked-books, lies, misinformation, etc. must suffer negative, long-lasting consequences, starting with being banned from the system.

It is an abiding irony that the present banking system's secret portfolios and processes (shadow banking, derivatives designed to fail and trigger profitable defaults, etc.) are considered core competitive advantages: in other words, eliminating transparency generates the highest-return bank profits.

And let's not overlook the political consequences of these immense profits: a political and regulatory order that is easily captured to serve the interests of big banks. The number one agenda item is of course to arrange Central State protection of the most profitable (i.e. the least transparent) parts of the banking sector's operations.

This lack of transparency distorts the financial market, rendering it systemically vulnerable to malinvestments and risky speculations and the financial crashes that result from these systemic distortions.

The other top agenda item for bank lobbyists is to arrange Central State/Federal Reserve subsidies of bank profits. These subsidies are also known as financial repression, as the Central State/Bank rigs interest rates and regulations to favor bank profits at the expense of both savers and borrowers.

Thanks to the Federal Reserve's Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP), savers have been robbed of hundreds of billions of dollars in income--money that has been effectively transferred to the banks by the State. This is why I call our system State-Cartel capitalism, as the State and cartels rule in a mutually beneficial marriage at the expense of the real economy, the citizenry and especially what's left of the dwindling middle class.

Since the core functions of banks can now be performed by cheap processors and software, we can get rid of the entire parasitic banking sector, once and for all. But what about investment banking? That too can be automated. What about wealth management? In a world where index funds beat 96% of money managers over a long time-frame, that too can be automated.

But what about the tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions politicos skim from the bankers? Now we finally reach the real reason why the parasitic banking sector is allowed to exist, even though it has outlived its purpose and value: the political class of parasites benefits immensely from the banking sector's giant state-rigged skimming machine.

An automated banking utility has no need for parasitic bankers or politicos or indeed, a central bank. The only legitimate regulatory function of the state is to enforce transparency; beyond that, its actions are all subsidies of one sort or another of politically powerful constituencies at the expense of the real economy's productive people, communities and enterprises.