Bank account

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Banking basics

A recap of a few things you’d think financial professionals ought to know

Your nest egg, sitting quietly and out of harm's way yesterday

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Not a little pot of cash with your name on it sitting in a vault in a wood-paneled office in Pall Mall, however much this figment of the popular imagination rides on, even in the minds of those — certain credit officers at investment banks, for example — who really should know better.

A deposit in a bank account is a form of on-call indebtedness where a customer lends its money to a bank. Yes: that’s right: you lend money to the bank. Once you do this, it isn’t your money anymore.[1] The bank pays you interest in return. This is, in large part, how banks fund their lending activity. You know how, in Hamlet, Polonius says to Laertes “neither a borrower or a lender be”? Well, banks are both.

All this is neatly explained in the explanatory notes to the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008:

A deposit in a bank or building society account constitutes a debt owed by the bank or building society to its customer. Although banks and building societies are free to make use of money received from customers (subject to prudential rules which aim to ensure the institution always retains an adequate capital base) the institution remains liable to repay the debt to its customer indefinitely.

To recap: a bank deposit is basically a loan to the bank, repayable on demand (if an ordinary deposit account) or at the end of the agreed term (if a term deposit).

Who can take deposits?

Only regulated credit institutionsbanks, in the vernacular — are allowed to accept deposits. They are a topic of some debate when banks and financial institutions enter into financing contracts with a cross default in them.

Limitation Act 1980

This gives a (demand) bank deposit special status under the Limitation Act 1980, since it is not payable at any time, unless it is asked for, so the limitation period never begins to run.

Is this the same as client money?

Yes - and no. With client money, the person to whom you pay the money doesn’t ever hold it, but merely looks after it for you by depositing it in their name but on your behalf in a bank somewhere else. That bank is therefore the borrower. You are still the lender. More particularly, CASS 7 client money applies only where you hold a money for or on behalf of a client in connection with MiFID business or designated investment business. So it is a limited case.

See also

References

  1. This startles people. It has even been known to startle senior credit officers. For a patient explanation see our article on cash.