Universal Banking - Meaning
Universal banking is a combination of Commercial banking, Investment banking, Development banking, Insurance and many other financial activities. It is a place where all financial products are available under one roof. So, a universal bank is a bank which offers commercial bank functions plus other functions such as Merchant Banking, Mutual Funds, Factoring, Credit cards, Housing Finance, Auto loans, Retail loans, Insurance, etc.
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Universal banking is done by very large banks. These banks provide a lot of finance to many companies. So, they take part in the Corporate Governance (management) of these companies. These banks have a large network of branches all over the country and all over the world. They provide many different financial services to their clients.
ln India, two reports in 1998 mentioned the concept of universal banking. They are, the Narasimham Committee Report and the S.H. Khan Committee Report. Both these reports advised to consolidate (bring together) the banking industry through mergers and integration of financial activities. That is, they advised a combination of all banking and financial activities. That is, they suggested a Universal banking.
In 2000, ICICI asked permission from RBI to become a universal bank. RBI wants some big domestic financial institutions to become universal banks.
Advantages of Universal Banking
The benefits or advantages of universal banking are:-
- Investors' Trust : Universal banks hold stakes (equity shares) of many companies. These companies can easily get other investors to invest in their business. This is because other investors have full confidence and faith in the Universal banks. They know that the Universal banks will closely watch all the activities of the companies in which they hold a stake.
- Economics of Scale : Universal banking results in economic efficiency. That is, it results in lower costs, higher output and better products and services. In India, RBI is in favour of universal banking because it results in economies of scale.
- Resource Utilisation : Universal banks use their client's resources as per the client's ability to take a risk. If the client has a high risk taking capacity then the universal bank will advise him to make risky investments and not safe investments. Similarly, clients with a low risk taking capacity are advised to make safe investments. Today, universal banks invest their client's money in different types of Mutual funds and also directly into the share market. They also do equity research. So, they can also manage their client's portfolios (different investments) profitably.
- Profitable Diversification : Universal banks diversify their activities. So, they can use the same financial experts to provide different financial services. This saves cost for the universal bank. Even the day-to-day expenses will be saved because all financial services are provided under one roof, i.e. in the same office.
- Easy Marketing : The universal banks can easily market (sell) all their financial products and services through their many branches. They can ask their existing clients to buy their other products and services. This requires less marketing efforts because of their well-established brand name. For e.g. ICICI may ask their existing bank account holders in all their branches, to take house loans, insurance, to buy their Mutual funds, etc. This is done very easily because they use one brand name (ICICI) for all their financial products and services.
- One-stop Shopping : Universal banking offers all financial products and services under one roof. One-stop shopping saves a lot of time and transaction costs. It also increases the speed or flow of work. So, one-stop shopping gives benefits to both banks and their clients.
Disadvantages of Universal Banking
The limitations or disadvantages of universal banking are:-
- Different Rules and Regulations : Universal banking offers all financial products and services under one roof. However, all these products and services have to follow different rules and regulations. This creates many problems. For e.g. Mutual Funds, Insurance, Home Loans, etc. have to follow different sets of rules and regulations, but they are provided by the same bank.
- Effect of failure on Banking System : Universal banking is done by very large banks. If these huge banks fail, then it will have a very big and bad effect on the banking system and the confidence of the public. For e.g. Recently, Lehman Brothers a very large universal bank failed. It had very bad effects in the USA, Europe and even in India.
- Monopoly : Universal banks are very large. So, they can easily get monopoly power in the market. This will have many harmful effects on the other banks and the public. This is also harmful to economic development of the country.
- Conflict of Interest : Combining commercial and investment banking can result in conflict of interest. That is, Commercial banking versus Investment banking. Some banks may give more importance to one type of banking and give less importance to the other type of banking. However, this does not make commercial sense.