Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Virtual Currencies and the State - B. Maurer, Money at the Zero Lower Bound

Bill Maurer in Just Money's Roundtable 2: Virtual Currencies and the State

I picked up a copy of the Financial Times in the Munich airport on my way home from keynoting the Bundesbank’s biannual International Cash Conference. The lead article, headlined “Draghi calls for urgent spending as he relaunches stimulus,” reported that the European Central Bank had lowered interest rates deeper into negative territory, to -0.5%. In the opinion pages, anthropologist and regular columnist Gillian Tett observed that negative interest rates were constraining policy options to stimulate growth, which might compel central banks to coordinate more directly with fiscal policy makers—thereby lessening, if not abandoning, central bank independence. Lack of monetary policy options was  leading to a “changing zeitgeist,” she wrote.

At the Bundesbank conference, attended by people affiliated with the cash payments divisions of central banks and others, researchers presented data on the increase in cash demand despite the decline of cash transactions at the point of sale. People are increasingly paying with their mobile phone or cards, but at the same time, negative interest spotlights the cost of bank deposits, suddenly making cash a smarter option for savings. At the conference, lighthearted disagreements over whether to call this “cash hoarding” gave way to more insistent pleas for what some called “non-transactional” cash to be recognized as a rational response to negative interest with consequences for commercial banking and banknote design. If people are going to hoard cash, then perhaps banks need to get into the business of building vaults. And if people are going to want cash as a store of value resistant to negative interest, perhaps innovative banknote design should support hoarding: the cash should be more durable, stackable, maybe smaller than a standard banknote, and able to be kept in a cupboard and easily stashed in a backpack, should one need to escape a natural disaster, political instability, or war.

These were European designers, talking about European banknotes. This is a changing zeitgeist indeed.

Cash limits just how low interest rates can go, unless governments find a way to levy and enforce a tax on cash. Cash holdings are an alternative to paying the bank to hold your deposits—at least until the cost of storage, security and insurance approach the cost of paying negative interest. Hence: vaults. If for everyday transactions cash serves as a control mechanism for consumption (the pain of seeing your cash go away introduces a mental speed-bump in your spending), at the monetary policy level cash is a control mechanism defining a limit to the “innovative” monetary policies we have seen since the global financial crisis.

To read the full discussion, please visit https://justmoney.org/b-maurer-money-at-the-zero-lower-bound/.

Friday, February 7, 2020

New bank account, who dis?

IMTFI Director Bill Maurer talks about fintech apps in this Dope Labs podcast by Zakiya Whatley, Titi Shodiya & Jenny Radelet Mast

Interview Transcript Excerpt:

Zakiya: FinTech is all around us and it can feel like these apps have been around forever, but that's not exactly the case.

Titi: Yes, so our first question for Dr. Maurer was when did all of this stuff start popping up?

Dr. Maurer: This really kind of hit the scene in a big way in 2008 and 2009 with the launch of the iPhone.

Zakiya: Yes, the iPhone launch in the U.S. in 2007. But the iPhone 3G came on the scene in 2008.

Titi: Revolutionary.

Zakiya: Changed everything.

Dr. Maurer: All of a sudden people have this really cool device that fits in their pocket and is basically a terrific interface into a whole bunch of different applications are a whole kind of appecology grew up around the iPhone and similar devices. And people in Silicon Valley and in the banking industry and payments industry started realizing, hey, this device, this suite of devices and apps could really change people's relationship to their money into the existing financial and banking infrastructure.

Zakiya: I love that he describes this as ecology because we've talked about ecology on a couple of different episodes.

Titi: Yes.

Zakiya: And so the ecology is just how different things usually in biology we say how different organisms interact with one another. But now we're saying, how do these different apps talk to each other? How do people want to access the information now that they have a smartphone? So it's really cool to think about this in the context of more of a relationship.

Titi: Yes. So these apps have created their own special environment.

Zakiya: That's right. So the first category we're walking through is personal finance. These are apps like Mint, Credit Karma, You need a budget, and even your personal banking app. Generally, they help you manage your spending and saving.

Dr. Maurer: These apps basically serve almost as like training wheels. Right. So it's like training wheels on a bicycle that teaches you a little bit about budgeting and investing or savings. It's usually not enough to get you where you need to go, but it gives you basic skills and a basic vocabulary. So then you can start talking to other people, to friends, to your parents, or even walk into your credit union or bank and start asking better questions.

Titi: And these apps or services can be really good for helping people make smarter financial decisions. This help comes primarily in two ways. The first is by data visualization or giving people charts and graphs to show them what they're really doing with their money.

Dr. Maurer: For so many people. Money is just coming in and going out and they're not really being mindful about it or paying any attention to where things are going.

Listen to the full podcast and read full transcript to learn more about algorithmic bias, personal finance, and gender & credit. Links below.

Via podcast: https://megaphone.link/GLT5697101460 or online at https://www.dopelabspodcast.com/listen (Lab 021: New Bank Account, Who Dis?).

Full transcript:

For further reading, view Filene Research Report: "The Lessons of Fintech Apps: Design Matters for Personal Finance​"