Rules force banks to innovate for survival

Bankers complain that the government’s overhaul of the banking system has saddled the industry with a heap of new rules, stricter regulators and higher costs of doing business.


But there is something they might not be so quick to mention in their complaints: The overhaul may also be pushing banks to innovate in important ways.

The overhaul is reducing government subsidies for banks. The banks have for decades raised returns for shareholders with high levels of borrowing. The overhaul restricts that borrowing, so banks will now have to work much harder to post the sort of returns their shareholders expect.

Banks may decide to toss out old practices and adopt new ways of serving clients. Wall Street firms are devising new ways of making securities available to customers. Retail bank executives are rethinking how they can reduce branches while still serving customers. They also cannot ignore the start-up firms that are using technology to make loans far more quickly than banks do.

“Banks have a huge cost infrastructure,” said Samir Desai, the chief executive and a co-founder of Funding Circle, a British company that uses technology to connect small businesses that want to borrow with investors who may want to lend to them. “Banks are not based around getting businesses funding as quickly as possible.”

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