Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

higher than they are shown to be in the above table. Even so, however, the general level of cash proportion would remain low; what it would be if real physical cash alone were considered it is impossible to guess, for this is a point on which banking accounts in Scotland, as in England, are persistently reticent.

It will also be noticed that one of the banks, which we have consequently left out of the table, follows the bad practice of many of the English country banks and includes in its cash item its loans at call or short notice.

The bank's acceptances, being a liability of a special kind, and specially secured, are not included in the table.

It should be observed that the notes which the Scotch banks hold as till money do not appear in the above statement, for until they are issued they are not a liability, and though they are treated by the banks in practice as an asset, they can not figure as such in a balance sheet. That they are practically treated as such is witnessed by Mr. Blyth, as quoted above, when he says that without them the banks would require to keep 8,000,000 or 10,000,000 of gold coin. And it is, of course, this habit of regarding unissued notes as a banking asset in the shape of till money that accounts for the low reserve of actual cash that the Scotch banks show.

Scotch banking is so generally regarded as one of the highest achievements of the banking intelligence that some hesitation is natural in criticising the system by which, according to its own evidence, it has obtained most of its success. At the same time, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a serious danger lurks in a system which regards a banker's unissued promise to pay in the light of a

[blocks in formation]

banking asset. Mr. Blyth points out that these unissued notes are “not a reserve but till money,” but the distinction between till money and reserve is one upon which it is possible to lay too much stress. In assessing the strength of a bank it is usual to compare the amount of its cash in hand, as a whole, with the amount of its liability to the public on deposit and current account, etc., and note circulation if any. The cash in hand, as a whole, consists of the till money and cash reserve. If the till money consists to any extent of the bank's own promises to pay, it follows that the bank's cash reserve as a whole is to that extent weakened, for it need not be said that in case of serious trouble, which is a contingency of which all provident bankers have at all times to beware, a bank's own promises to pay would be of little service to it. If a bank's credit were doubted, these promises to pay would not be available for it in meeting demands upon it. At such periods the public requires from its bankers not promises to pay but physical gold. In Scotland the confidence of the public in its bankers is so great, and the readiness with which it circulates their promises to pay appears to be so ingrained in the national character, that the contingency of the demand of the public for gold seems to be extremely remote. The criticism therefore which detects a weak point in this asset upon which Scotch banking prides itself so highly may be said to be merely academic. Nevertheless, when we examine Scotch banking by the test of figures, we find that it does actually work, as indeed would be expected from the statement of its exponents, on a cash basis which is decidedly narrow.

Though the functions that they perform are practically the same as that of the English bankers, Scotchmen have succeeded in avoiding the excessive competition in carrying them out which we have seen to be a weakness of English banking. In Scotland, on the other hand, cohesion and cooperation among the banks are carried to an extreme of which the mercantile community frequently complains. The banks are few and stand together like a close corporation; they agree absolutely and arbitrarily among themselves as to the rates they will allow to depositors, the rates at which they will advance or discount, and the terms and commissions for which they will do business for customers. The extent to which this regulation of the price of the product that they turn out is carried, is almost incredible from the English point of view, and though it is contended by the champions of the Scotch system that it encourages that wholesome democratic influence in Scotch banking which is in favor of the small borrower of limited resources, who is thus able to obtain accommodation on the same terms as much larger and more important customers, yet it must be obvious that the Scotch banks, by making these hard and fast agreements among themselves as to the price of the accommodation that they will give, and maintaining it in every case, are in fact putting the same price upon a very different article. The result of it is beginning to tell upon them a little in these days, since, when the big Scotch meịchants and manufacturers find that their local bankers charge them the same rates for accommodation as the small tradesmen of the towns, they are naturally impelled to make arrangements to provide themselves with monetary facilities some

where south of the Tweed, where rates are ruled by the circumstances of each case, and competition and higgling often in times of monetary ease deliver the bankers into the hands of the borrowers. As it is, the Scotch banks in regular conclave fix their rates in accordance with those current in the London money market or the Bank of England's official minimum, and, having fixed them, stick to them. The system is very profitable to themselves, and their customers certainly can not complain on the whole of the facilities with which they provide them. Nevertheless, the cast-iron rigor with which they work hand in hand in combination appears to be an excessive development of banking unity, and an ideal banking system would seem to lie somewhere in the middle between the excessive competition of the English bankers and the cast-iron combination of their Scotch brethren. Finally, it may

be added that it is a little inaccurate to speak of a Scotch banking system, if the phrase be taken to imply that Scotch banking stands by itself and works on its own

In fact, it is only an appendage of the English system and relies habitually on drawing gold from the Bank of England, as its center and the keeper of its

resources.

reserve.

(D) THE PRIVATE BANKS.

Any differences that exist between the private and jointstock banks of England lie in their ownership rather than in their functions. Their functions are the same, but the manner in which they carry them out is perhaps influenced to a slight extent by the fact, which really distinguishes them, that the private banks are owned by a few partners

who generally conduct the business for themselves or exert more or less influence on it, while the joint-stock banks are managed by salaried directors and officials on behalf of a large body of shareholders formed into a public company, the shares in which can as a rule be bought and sold on the London Stock Exchange. It will be remembered that the measure confirming the Bank of England's monopoly enacted that it should be unlawful for “any body politic or corporate * * *

or for any other persons whatsoever exceeding the number of six persons” to carry on the noteissuing business which was then (in 1709) regarded as the only banking function. This measure restricted to the Bank of England the power of uniting for banking purposes the capital of a large number of shareholders, and left it faced only by the competition of private banking firms, consisting of not more than six partners.

Since private enterprise naturally precedes joint-stock institutions, it goes without saying that the private banks of England were the pioneers of the banking business. There are still in existence private firms which were founded before the Bank of England. A goldsmith called Child was doing business of a banking character soon after 1660, and Child's Bank still exists. Hoare's Bank was instituted in about 1680, fourteen years before the Bank of England received its charter. Modern developments have almost driven them out of the field, and among the leading banks in the city of London only two are left which can still be called private in the old sense of the word. There are one or two other institutions which are on the borderland; and at the west end of the town several old firms, including Child's and Hoare's, have retained their old constitutions.

« ZurückWeiter »