What Is Shadow Banking?

Author:Laura E. Kodres
Position:Assistant Director of the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department.­

Back to Basics

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and acts like a duck, then it is a duck—or so the saying goes. But what about an institution that looks like a bank and acts like a bank? Often it is not a bank—it is a shadow bank.Â

Shadow banking, in fact, symbolizes one of the many failings of the financial system leading up to the global crisis. The term “shadow bank” was coined by economist Paul McCulley in a 2007 speech at the annual financial symposium hosted by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In McCulley’s talk, shadow banking had a distinctly U.S. focus and referred mainly to nonbank financial institutions that engaged in what economists call maturity transformation. Commercial banks engage in maturity transformation when they use deposits, which are normally short term, to fund loans that are longer term. Shadow banks do something similar. They raise (that is, mostly borrow) short-term funds in the money markets and use those funds to buy assets with longer-term maturities. But because they are not subject to traditional bank regulation, they cannot—as banks can—borrow in an emergency from the Federal Reserve (the U.S. central bank) and do not have traditional depositors whose funds are covered by insurance; they are in the “shadows.”

Home mortgages

Shadow banks first caught the attention of many experts because of their growing role in turning home mortgages into securities. The “securitization chain” started with the origination of a mortgage that then was bought and sold by one or more financial entities until it ended up part of a package of mortgage loans used to back a security that was sold to investors. The value of the security was related to the value of the mortgage loans in the package, and the interest on a mortgage-backed security was paid from the interest and principal homeowners paid on their mortgage loans. Almost every step from creation of the mortgage to sale of the security took place outside the direct view of regulators.Â

The Financial Stability Board (FSB), an organization of financial and supervisory authorities from major economies and international financial institutions, developed a broader definition of shadow banks that includes all entities outside the regulated banking system that perform the core banking function, credit intermediation (that is, taking money from savers and lending it to borrowers). The four key aspects of intermediation are


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