BANK OF DAVE
LENDING money to my customers had made me realise that banking was actually quite a simple process: you just take people’s money and then lend it out to other people, making sure you charge them more interest than you pay out. So I thought maybe I could open a tiny bank to serve the local community. Not a big bank but maybe a better bank. How hard could it be?
David Fishwick, chief executive of the Bank of Dave.
“BLOODY hard”, came the answer from Dave, once it came to red tape, regulators and obtaining a licence. Dave is a small businessman from Burnley in the UK who began lending the profits of his minibus business to make a point about banks.
Now, spurred on to fame by community angst over the British banks, Dave has his own TV series.
The Brits, hopefully, will enjoy the ”relief rally” in markets that tends to accompany the Olympic Games. Otherwise things are grim, much worse than here.
Across the Pacific, the former boss of Citigroup was shooting the breeze in a TV interview this week when he casually observed the banks were too big and should be broken up.
They don’t take much notice of calls for radical reform on Wall Street, unless they hail from an insider. Sandy Weill’s comments went viral.
Here was the architect of the 1998 uber-merger that turned Citi into a super-leveraged leviathan. Ten years hence, taxpayers bailed the bank out to the tune of $45 billion.
”We should have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars – that’s not too big to fail,” said Weill, now fabulously wealthy and underemployed but with the luxury of an independent view.
It was far bolder rhetoric than hithers from the insipid Obama regime, whose idea of economic management has been to watch the Federal Reserve prop up its Wall Street pals by printing money. Even now, the equity marketeers are more sanguine as the Fed dangles another round of quantitative easing hypnotically before their eyes.
Still, as both parties in Washington are in turn propped up by Wall Street ”donations”, there is little prospect of respite.
Comparing bank sizes, Ian Narev down at the august Martin Place, Sydney headquarters of Commonwealth Bank might say to Citigroup: ”That’s not a bank … this is a bank!”
CBA’s market capitalisation is $89 billion. Citi’s is just $75 billion. Swiss bank UBS is worth $40 billion and Germany’s Deutsche Bank tips the scales at a measly $26 billion.
The poor big four, ever besieged by brutally high borrowing costs and an environment that is unrelentingly ”tough”, will make little more than $25 billion at the bottom line for the year just passed.
CBA, now the eighth-biggest bank in the world by market value, is forecast to surpass $7 billion in net profits for the first time.
In 2009, it was ranked 18. Per head of population, the big banks here are as powerful as any in the world. In the process they have managed to skirt the sorts of large losses and scandals that have beset their overseas counterparts while paying out 70 per cent of earnings to shareholders and constantly whingeing about how challenging things are.
Right now they are absolutely creaming it. Credit growth might be slack but they are keeping a bit of those nice Reserve Bank rate cuts so margins are nice and fat. You can see it in the stock prices.
We are loath to give a bank an even break but have to admit they have been better corporate citizens. And they are very slick in the ”crying poor” department.
Still, the day will come when the issue of dominance will have to be addressed. Their very size is a government and competition regulator’s nightmare.