Special Issues Related to Government-owned Banks
Many countries have some commercial banks that are owned, wholly or substantially, by the national government or by other public bodies. In other countries, government-owned commercial banks comprise the majority of the banking system, usually for historic reasons. In principle, all banks should be subject to the same operational and supervisory standards regardless of their ownership; however, the unique nature of government-owned commercial banks should be recognised.
Government-owned commercial banks typically are backed by the full resources of the government. This provides additional support and strength for these banks. Although this government support can be advantageous, it should also be noted that the correction of problems at these banks is sometimes deferred and the government is not always in a position to recapitalise the bank when required. At the same time, this support may lead to the taking of excessive risks by bank management. In addition, market discipline may be less effective when market participants know that a particular bank has the full backing of the government and consequently has access to more extensive (and possibly cheaper) funding than would be the case for a comparable privately-owned bank.
Consequently, it is important that supervisors seek to ensure that government-owned commercial banks operate to the same high level of professional skill and disciplines as required of privately-owned commercial banks in order to preserve a strong credit and control culture in the banking system as a whole. In addition, supervisors should apply their supervisory methods in the same manner to government-owned commercial banks as they do to all other commercial banks.
Despite the efforts of supervisors, bank failures can occur. At such times, the possible loss of all or part of their funds increases the risk that depositors will lose confidence in other banks. Consequently, many countries have established deposit insurance plans to protect small depositors. These plans are normally organised by the government or central bank, or by the relevant bankers' association and are compulsory rather than voluntary. Deposit insurance provides a safety net for many bank creditors thereby increasing public confidence in banks and making the financial system more stable. A safety net may also limit the effect that problems at one bank might have on other, healthier, banks in the same market, thereby reducing the possibility of contagion or a chain reaction within the banking system as a whole. A key benefit of deposit insurance is that, in conjunction with logical exit procedures, it gives the banking supervisors greater freedom to let problem banks fail.
Deposit insurance can however increase the risk of imprudent behaviour by individual banks. Small depositors will be less inclined to withdraw funds even if the bank pursues high-risk strategies, thus weakening an important check on imprudent management. Government officials and supervisors need to recognise this effect of a safety net and take steps to prevent excessive risk-taking by banks. One method of limiting risk-taking is to utilise a deposit insurance system consisting of "co-insurance." Under such a system, the deposit insurance covers a percentage (e.g. 90%) of individual deposits and/or provides cover only up to a certain absolute amount so that depositors still have some funds at risk. Other methods include charging risk-based premiums or withholding deposit insurance from large, institutional depositors.
The actual form of such a programme should be tailored to the circumstances in, as well as historical and cultural features of, each country.