In the era of quantitative easing and significant market competition, maintaining profitability through interest-based income is becoming very tough for banks. In the last two decades, interest margins have come under tremendous pressure. In modern times, banks prefer non-interest income i.e. fee based income to drive profitability and return on capital.
The 2008 financial crisis was a big blow for banks, especially for those depending broadly on interest-based income. As the global economic recovery still looks fragile, banks are finding it hard to do loan- and mortgage-based business i.e. interest-based business. The ultra-low central bank interest rate regime was supposed to spur economic activity, as it (theoretically) supports more lending activity, but many banks are hesitant in lending due to potential bad loan losses and slow demand for loans. It would be worth to mention the ultra-low interest rate regime has also dampened savings account activities in banks.
Most of the fee-based incomes (advisory and management fees) are fairly risk-free, as these services don’t involve significant capital investment.
In recent times, banks have reported handsome revenues from fee-based income; thanks to the spur in M&A activities and private equity deals (mainly in US). Since we are living in a globalized society, there are no boundaries for banks and they can reach out to any corner of the world, thus making many potential M&A and private equity activities lucrative.
It would be pertinent to mention that fee-based driven income cushions banks against market competition. In coming days, implementation of new banking rules and regulations are going to take a paradigm shift (Dodd Frank rule, Basel III). This might curb the freedom of leverage banks take on their reserves and provisions, which in turn will leave banks with limited capital or liquidity to do the traditional business of loans and advances –further constraining interest-based income.
Fee-based income is more volatile than interest-based income, but a range of services like wealth management, transaction banking, treasury, and investment banking are covered under fee-based income. The wide spectrum of fee-based service provides room for banks to shuffle service strategies.
In the prevailing economic situation, banks would look for more fee-based income, but they won’t be able to ignore interest-based income completely. They have to build up modus operandi for various possible economic situations. For example, they will have to understand, what would be good for business if the Fed will increase the short-term interest rate or possible ‘tapering’ in coming months? How to benefit from the global corporate houses’ quest for M&A?