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Unbanked rate falls to 5.4%; Powell cool on Fed’s digital currency

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UBS said its third-quarter profit nearly doubled year over year and said it was setting aside $2.5 billion for share buybacks and dividends “on a surge in client trading and deal making.” Net earnings rose 99% to $2.1 billion from $1.05 billion a year earlier while loan-loss provisions fell to $89 million, about a third of what it set aside in each of the previous two quarters. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

Wall Street Journal

Progress report

The proportion of U.S. households that are “unbanked” fell to 5.4% last year from 6.5% in 2017, “the lowest level since at least 2009,” when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. first began surveying consumers. “Some 1.5 million households saw at least one member open a checking or savings account” in 2019, the FDIC said in its biennial report, with “most of the decline reflecting improvement in the circumstances of households that didn’t previously have bank accounts.”

However, “officials warned that the economic disruption caused by the pandemic is likely to derail the trend of rising access to banking services.”

“The reason for not having a bank account most frequently cited by respondents in the FDIC’s survey was inability to meet minimum balance requirements” to avoid fees charged by banks. “Black and Latino households are significantly more likely to be unbanked than white households. The unbanked rate for those groups in 2019 was 13.8% and 12.2%, respectively, versus 2.5% for white households.”

On Monday, the American Bankers Association and the FDIC “called on banks that do not already offer accounts designed for previously unbanked consumers to start doing so,” American Banker’s Kevin Wach reported.

Seeing ain’t believing

Investors are still shying away from bank stocks even though most of the big banks reported solid earnings in the third quarter. That could be because they’re too focused on the past, the Journal says.

“Take Goldman Sachs for instance. Last week it reported record quarterly earnings per share, which were 75% better than consensus forecasts. It also had its highest quarterly return on equity, an annualized 17.5% rate, in a decade. Yet in the days since the stock has edged lower, by more than 2% since its report.”

“The years of depressed revenue that accompanied the last economic recovery may be lingering in the minds of investors. Wall Street banks suffered from an onslaught of new regulation, as well as depressed trading volumes as Federal Reserve bond buying suppressed market volatility.”

Better safe than sorry

“The Federal Reserve is in no hurry to issue a digital currency, Chairman Jerome Powell said Monday, citing unresolved concerns including the potential for theft and fraud.”

“We do think it’s more important to get it right than to be the first,” Mr. Powell said at a panel organized by the International Monetary Fund. “Getting it right means that we not only look at the potential benefits of the CBDC [central bank digital currency], but also the potential risks and also recognize the important trade-offs that have to be thought through carefully.”

Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, removes his glasses during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington on Sept 24, 2020.

“Potential benefits include faster and less costly international transactions, Mr. Powell said. But the Fed must also consider the risk of cyberattacks, counterfeiting and fraud, as well as the impact on monetary policy and financial stability. Mr. Powell said the dollar’s central role in global financial transactions makes it essential to get a digital currency right while remaining on the frontier of research and policy development.”

Powell said the Fed “is primarily interested in looking at a central bank digital currency that would improve the payment system, rather than one that would replace the physical dollar,” American Banker’s Hannah Lang reports.

All mixed up

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network fined Larry Dean Harmon, “an operator of the bitcoin ‘mixers’ Helix and Coin Ninja, $60 million for allegedly violating anti-money-laundering laws. The civil penalty against Mr. Harmon, who already faces charges from the U.S. Justice Department, is the first of its kind imposed by FinCen against a virtual currency ‘mixer’ or ‘tumbler’—businesses that charge customers a fee to send virtual currencies to a designated address in a manner designed to conceal the source or owner of the currency, according to the agency.”

“The enforcement action comes seven years after FinCEN first issued guidance requiring exchangers and administrators of convertible virtual currency to register as money-services businesses and to adopt anti-money-laundering compliance programs. The agency clarified in 2019 that financial institutions that are mixers and tumblers of convertible virtual currency must also comply with requirements.”

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