Banks face a serious problem when depositors try to withdraw all their funds at once. Since banks do not keep a lot of cash on hand, they are forced to sell their treasuries at a loss, which can cause the bank to become insolvent. Financial instruments like raid swaps can help banks hedge against rising interest rates, but some banks, such as Silicon Valley Bank, do not use them. Given that Silicon Valley Bank is one of the top 20 largest banks in the US, it is assumed that many other banks have not been hedging either.
The Problem with Bank Runs
Bank runs have been a recurring issue ever since the banking system was established, and it’s easy to see why. Banks don’t keep all the depositors’ funds in their vaults, instead, they use most of it to invest in various assets like treasuries, stocks, and loans. This is how banks make money – by earning interest on these investments.
However, the problem arises when a large number of depositors decide to withdraw their funds at once. If the bank doesn’t have enough cash on hand to give to the depositors, it has to sell its investments at a loss to get the funds. This can cause a chain reaction where more and more depositors withdraw their funds, forcing the bank to keep selling its assets at a loss, ultimately leading to the bank’s insolvency.
The Case of Silicon Valley Bank
Silicon Valley Bank was a prominent bank in the US that faced this exact issue in the late 1990s. The bank specialized in providing capital to technology startups, and their clients depended heavily on venture financing.
When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, VC firms stopped investing in startups, causing many of Silicon Valley Bank’s clients to default on their loans. This led to a decline in the bank’s financial position, and as a result, many depositors started withdrawing their funds.
The bank didn’t have enough cash on hand to give to the depositors, and they had to sell their assets at a loss. This caused a chain reaction where more and more depositors started withdrawing their funds, leading to the bank’s insolvency.
How Banks Can Hedge Against This Risk
There are many financial instruments that banks can use to hedge against this risk, such as raid swaps. A raid swap is a derivative contract that pays out if interest rates rise or if there is a credit downgrade.
By using these financial instruments, banks can protect themselves against the risk of bank runs, ensuring that they have enough cash on hand to give to depositors even if a large number of them start withdrawing their funds.
However, many banks, like Silicon Valley Bank, don’t use these instruments to hedge against this risk. This is a concerning issue as it means that many other banks could face the same fate as Silicon Valley Bank if a bank run were to occur.
In conclusion, bank runs are a real risk that banks face, and they can have disastrous consequences if not handled properly. Banks must ensure that they have enough liquidity to meet the needs of their depositors, and they should also use financial instruments like raid swaps to hedge against this risk.