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BANKS AND BANKING

Most business transactions in France are liquidated, not in cheques as in England, but in notes of the Bank of France. These, owing to their convenience, are preferred to specie. This is accumulated in the vaults of the Bank of France, which in 1906 held on average £115,000,000 gold and £42,000,000 silver. The gold held by the Bank of France is generally considerably larger in amount than that held by the Bank of England, which in the autumn of 1890 had to borrow £3,000,000 in gold from the Bank of France at the time of the Baring crisis. The large specie reserve of the bank has given stability to the trade of France, and has enabled the bank to manage its business without the numerous fluctuations in the rate of discount which are constantly occurring in England. It is true that the holding this very large amount of specie imposes a very heavy burden on the shoulders of the shareholders of the bank, but they do not complain. The advantage to business from the low rate of interest which has to be paid for the use of borrowed capital in France is a great advantage to the trade and industry of that country.

The mass of the reserve in France is so great that the movements of the precious metals, when they are the result only of natural causes, are allowed to go on without corresponding movements in the discount rate. But it must be remembered that this large reserve is held in part against a gigantic note issue, and also that the trade activity and enterprise of the French people are less intense than in either the United Kingdom or Germany; thus it is much easier for the Bank of France to maintain a steady rate of discount.

Besides the Bank of France, several great credit institutions carry on business in the country; as the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (capital and reserve, £3,729,000; other liabilities, deposits, &c., £14,842,000), the Banque Française pour le Commerce et l'Industrie (£2,450,000; and £3,505,000), the Crédit Lyonnais (£14,000,000; and £82,570,000), the Comptoir National d'Escompte de Paris (£6,772,000; and £47,593,000), the Société Générale pour favoriser le développement du Commerce et de l'Industrie en France (£7,469,000; and £45,800,000), and the Société Générale de Crédit Industriel et Commercial (£1,600,000; and £10,060,000).

There is also the Crédit Foncier de France with a very considerable capital, but the business done is so largely that of mortgages that it can hardly be included among banks, though it carries on in some measure the business of banking.

Besides the six important joint-stock banks mentioned above, there exists in France a large number of banks, principally in the provinces, carrying on a very considerable business. Little is known as to their deposits, but their business appears to be conducted with great prudence and discretion. One hundred and eighty-two of these firms were members of the French Country Bankers' Association in 1898. They carry on business in 66 out of the 86 departments into which France is divided. More than one of these banks has several offices—one possessing 18, including the head office. These branches are situated in the small towns in the vicinity. In this the business follows more the English method of small branches. The French Country Bankers' Association holds its meetings in Paris, where matters of interest to bankers are discussed. (See Bankers' Magazine, July 1898.)

Germany. — Besides the Imperial Bank of Germany, the "Reichsbank," there are about 140 banks doing business in the states which form the German empire. These credit and industrial banks with their large resources have had an immense influence in bringing about the astonishing industrial development of their country. Five banks possess the right of uncovered note-issue; these are:—


The Imperial Bank of Germany with right of issue £23,641,450
The Bank of Saxony     "        "        " 838,500
The Bank of Bavaria     "        "        " 1,600,000
The Bank of Württemberg     "        "        " 500,000
The Bank of Baden     "        "        " 500,000
£27,079,950


At the Bank of Germany the coin and bullion held is sometimes larger than at the Bank of England. The statement of the specie in the weekly accounts includes silver. The amounts held in gold and silver are only separated once a year, when the balance-sheet is published. The figures of the balance-sheet for the 31st of December 1906 showed in round numbers £24,000,000 gold and £9,000,000 silver. As far as the capital is concerned the £18,000,000 of the Bank of England considerably exceeds the £9,000,000 of the Bank of France and the £12,200,000 of the Bank of Germany. The note circulation of both the other banks is considerably larger than that of the Bank of England, that of the Bank of France being £186,300,000, and of the Imperial Bank of Germany £69,000,000 in 1906.

The capitals and reserves of the German banks, including those of banks established to do business in other countries, as South America and the Far East, and of the Bank of Germany, are about £133,000,000, with further resources, including deposits, notes and mortgage bonds, amounting to fully £414,000,000. The amount of the capital compares very closely with that of the capitals of the banks of the United Kingdom. The deposits are increasing. The deposits, however, are not the whole of the resources of the German banks. The banks make use, besides, of their acceptances in a manner which is not practised by the banks of other countries, and the average note circulation of the Reichsbank, included in the statement given above, is between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000.

A large and apparently increasing proportion of the resources of the German banks is employed in industrial concerns, some of which are beyond the boundaries of the empire. The dangers of this practice have called forth many criticisms in Germany, among which may be quoted the remarks of Caesar Strauss and of Dr R. Koch, the president of the Reichsbank. Dr Koch especially points out the need of the development of powerful banks in Germany unconnected with speculative business of this kind. The object of employing their funds thus is the higher rate of interest to be obtained from these investments than from discounting bills or making loans at home. But such an employment of the resources of a bank is opposed to all regular rules of business and of banking tradition, which abstains from making fixed investments of any large part of the resources of a bank. On the other hand, Dr Koch observes that the risks of the one "reserve system" mentioned by Bagehot are not to be feared in Germany.[1] The recent movement in favour of concentration among the banks has been described by Dr E. Depitre and Dr Riesser, who give particulars of the business done by these banks, which does not correspond with banking as practised in the United Kingdom, being more of an industrial character.

There are also many private banking firms in Germany which do a considerable amount of business.

The Reichsbank, by far the most powerful banking institution in Germany, is managed by the bank directory appointed by the chancellor of the empire. The shareholders join in the management through a committee, of which each member must be qualified by holding not less than three shares. The government exercises complete powers of control through the chancellor of the empire. The influence of the Imperial Bank now permeates, by means of its branches, all the separate kingdoms of the empire—the uniformity of coinage introduced through the laws of 1871-1873 rendering this possible. The Imperial Bank assists business principally in two ways—first, through the clearing system (Giro-Verkehr), which it has greatly developed, and secondly, through the facilities given to business by its note circulation. The Imperial Bank also receives deposits, and cheques are drawn against these, but in Germany notes are principally used in payments for ordinary business.

Before the Reichsbank was established, Hamburg was the first, and for a long time the only, example of a clearing in Germany. This was taken up by the Reichsbank when it established its office in Hamburg in the time-honoured building which had belonged to the Hamburg Clearing House. Similar business had long been undertaken by the Bank of Prussia. This was absorbed and developed by the Reichsbank in 1876. Through the "clearing system" money can be remitted from any of the 443 places in which there is an office of the Reichsbank, to any of these places, without charge either to the sender or the receiver. It is sufficient that the person to whom the money is to be remitted should have an account at the bank. Any person owing him money in the remotest parts of the empire may go to the office of the bank which is most convenient to him and pay in the amount of his debt, which is credited on the following day at the office of the bank, without charge, to the account of his creditor wherever he may reside. The person who makes the payment need not have any account with the bank. The impetus given to business by this arrangement has been very considerable. It practically amounts to a money-order system without charge or risk of loss in transmission. From Hamburg and Bremen to the frontiers of Russia, from the shores of the Baltic to the frontiers of Switzerland, the whole of the empire of Germany has thus become for monetary purposes one country only. The amount of these transfers for the year 1906 exceeded £1,860,000,000.

The note circulation is also a powerful factor of the business of the Reichsbank. It is governed by the law of 1875 and the amending law of 1899, corresponding in some degree to Peel's act of 1844, which regulates the note circulation of the Bank of England. An uncovered limit, originally £12,500,000, increased to £14,811,450 by the lapse of the issues of other banks allowed to it, has been extended by these and by the act of the 5th of June 1902 to £23,641,450. Against the notes thus issued which are not represented by specie, treasury notes (Reichskassenscheine, the legal tender notes of the

  1. See Vortrage und Aufsdtze hauplscichlich aus dem Handels- und Weehselrecht, von Dr R. Koch, pp. 163-164.