Financial Institutions

  • May 14, 1997

    The changing business activities of banks in Canada

    Over the last 30 years, the business mix of banks in Canada has changed significantly. Progress in information-processing technology, legislative changes, and market forces have combined to blur the traditional distinctions between banks and other financial institutions and have allowed banks to offer a much wider range of products and services. In this article, the author reviews the expansion of bank lending to households over this period and their recent movement into personal wealth management. While these trends were facilitated by revisions to legislation, they also reflected the changing needs of the "baby boom" generation, first as home-buyers and, more recently, as middle-aged investors. On the commercial and corporate side, banks reacted to the rapid expansion of securities markets (and to the reduced demand for intermediation by both lenders/depositors and borrowers) by moving into investment banking, after legislative changes opened this business to them in the late 1980s. They also used their expertise in credit assessment and risk management to provide credit guarantees and to act as counterparties and intermediaries in derivatives markets. Notable in this broadening of bank activities has been their more recent entry into the trust, mutual fund, and retail brokerage business. The banks have also made preliminary forays into insurance. The expansion of off-balance-sheet activities has made fee income an increasingly important part of bank earnings. The article also looks at the emerging tools and techniques that will most likely transform the structure of banking in the future.

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