Cantilion: Banks’ caution may devalue their currency

The banks’ own caution about lending is opening the door to non-bank finance, something that’s already more common in the US than in Europe.

The banks’ own caution about lending is opening the door to non-bank finance, something that’s already more common in the US than in Europe.

Sat, May 4, 2013, 06:09

Do we really need the banks? After all the pain that we have taken to save them, the answer must surely be “yes”, but in reality, it’s more like “up to a point”.

The banks’ own caution about lending is opening the door to non-bank finance, something that’s already more common in the US than in Europe.

This week, Swedish corporate financier Proventus, which manages about €1.1 billion, said it believed there were good opportunities to lend to businesses here, created in part by the limited availability of bank finance.

Chief executive Daniel Sachs believes firms such as his own are going to play a greater role in funding businesses around Europe in the future. He argues that there has been a shift from the model where banks provided about 80 per cent of the debt raised by companies, and other sources, such as bonds, accounted for the rest.

Sachs says we are moving to a point where the mix is more likely to be closer to 50/50. Not only that, he maintains there will be no going back from this – it will become the norm.

But it’s not just in this field that the move appears to be on. US foreign exchange specialist Moneycorp recently set up an Irish operation in direct competition with the banks, who are using this service to generate income from business clients rather than to compete. Similar things are happening in areas such as car finance, leasing, invoice discounting and a range of other services.

During the Nineties, the banks expanded into a whole range of areas that were previously the preserve of specialists. They provided everything from leasing to stockbroking, life assurance to current accounts, turning themselves into financial supermarkets in the process.

Hopefully, now the non-bank players can reach a point where there is sufficient competition in financial services to ensure that businesses and consumers get a reasonable deal. And, perhaps, the banks’ importance may shrink to the point where we will never have to hear the word “systemic” again.