Mobile banking channels, which banks have used to attract deposits, are helping deposits flow out faster as rates rise, a May research paper shows.
The combination of higher interest rates and technology means that banks with robust mobile banking capabilities have also seen more deposit runoffs — even before the spring banking crisis — according to researchers from Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
They found that mobile banking has increased the sensitivity of deposits to interest rates, reducing their stickiness: it’s easier for customers to shop rates, open accounts and move funds. The paper refers to the slow or gradual pace of deposits leaving banks as “deposit walks” versus deposit runs, where many customers overwhelm a bank with withdrawal requests.
“Average deposits have become more sensitive to changes in the federal funds rate in the last decade,” they found. This is “particularly pronounced for banks with a digital platform and banks with a brokerage account.”
In the study, banks were considered digital if their mobile application had at least 300 reviews, and as having brokerages if they report brokerage income in their call report. In the study, 64% of banks that had between $1 billion and $250 billion in assets — admittedly a wide swath — were considered digital. The impact of digital bank channels on deposits appeared in third quarter 2022 as deposit growth between digital and nondigital banks diverged; a quarter later, digital banks began losing both insured and uninsured deposits.
“Whatever happened in the banking system in late 2022 and early 2023 was not just about the flight of uninsured deposits,” they wrote.
A 400 basis points increase in the federal funds rate leads to deposit decline of 6.4% at banks that don’t have a brokerage and aren’t considered digital, compared to 11.6% for digital banks with a brokerage. They also found that digital banks slowed their “deposit walks” by increasing deposit rates and their overall deposit betas.
Although larger banks with brokerages certainly could have more rate-sensitive customers than smaller banks without brokerages, the researchers attempted to account for that adding another analysis: internet usage among depositors.
“We find that banks’ deposit outflows are more pronounced in markets with higher internet usage, but that this is only the case for digital banks (regardless of whether they report brokerage fees or not),” the researchers wrote.
Digital banking capabilities contributed to the rapid failure of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and First Republic Bank, according to testimony from bank officials and regulators. Silicon Valley Bank customers “sought to withdraw nearly all” of the bank’s deposits in less than 24 hours, said Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chair Martin Gruenberg in May 18 testimony to the U.S. Senate. He added that “the ease and speed of moving deposits to other deposit accounts or non-deposit alternatives with the widespread adoption of mobile banking” is a development that has increased the banking industry’s “exposure to deposit runs.”
First Republic Bank’s run was “exacerbated” in part by “recent technological advancements that allow depositors to withdraw their money almost immediately,” said former First Republic Bank CEO Michael Roffler in May 17 Congressional testimony. The bank experienced $40 billion in deposit outflows on March 13, after the failures of Silicon Valley and Signature, and a total of $100 billion in withdrawals in the ensuing weeks.
Not everyone is concerned about the impact of mobile apps on deposits and its implications on bank stability. Ron Shevlin, managing director and chief research officer of Cornerstone Advisors, believes that a small percentage of banks will face notable deposit exits, with most banks able to keep funds stable. Additionally, he points out that banks benefited from having digital and mobile banking channels, especially in the earliest days on the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a problem because I think a lot of financial institutions are fairly sophisticated in looking at this,” he says. Banks aren’t just looking at account closures to study deposit outflows; they also analyzing changes in account behavior and transactions. “This is not super new behavior anymore. It’s been in the making for 15 to 20 years.”
Both Shevlin and Luigi Zingales, one of the authors on the paper and a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, see digital transformation as an inevitability for banks. Zingales points out that apps — not branches — will shape the next generation’s experience with banks. As more community banks become digital banks, he says they may need to adjust their assumptions and expectations for how these capabilities could alter their deposit base, costs and overall balance sheet.
“I think what you need to do is be much more vigilant in how you invest your assets. In the past, you had this natural edge and now this natural edge is much smaller. And if you think you have this natural edge and you take a lot of duration risk, you get creamed,” he says. “I think the [solution] is not to resist technology — to some extent, it’s irresistible. The [solution] is learning to live with a new technology and understanding that the world has changed.”
Risk issues like these will be covered during Bank Director’s Bank Audit & Risk Conference in Chicago June 12-14, 2023.