A commercial bank is a type of bank that provides services such as accepting deposits, making business loans, and offering basic investment products that is operated as a business for profit.
It can also refer to a bank, or a division of a large bank, which deals with corporations or large/middle-sized business to differentiate it from a retail bank and an investment bank.
Origin of the term
The name bank derives from the Italian word banco “desk/bench”, used during the Renaissance era by Florentine bankers, who used to carry out their transactions on a desk covered by a green tablecloth. However, traces of banking activity can be found even in ancient times.
In the United States the term commercial bank was often used to distinguish it from an investment bank due to differences in bank regulation. After the Great Depression, through the Glass–Steagall Act, the U.S. Congress required that commercial banks only engage in banking activities, whereas investment banks were limited to capital market activities. This separation was mostly repealed in 1999 by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act.
The general role of commercial banks is to provide financial services to general public and business, ensuring economic and social stability and sustainable growth of the economy.
In this respect, credit creation is the most significant function of commercial banks. While sanctioning a loan to a customer, they do not provide cash to the borrower. Instead, they open a deposit account from which the borrower can withdraw. In other words, while sanctioning a loan, they automatically create deposits.
- Commercial banks accept various types of deposits from public especially from its clients, including saving account deposits, recurring account deposits, and fixed deposits. These deposits are returned whenever the customer demands it or after a certain time period.
- Commercial banks provide loans and advances of various forms, including an overdraft facility, cash credit, bill discounting, money at call etc. They also give demand and term loans to all types of clients against proper security. They also act as trustees for wills of their customers etc.
In most countries commercial banks are heavily regulated and this is typically done by a country’s central bank. They will impose a number of conditions on the banks that they regulate such as keeping bank reserves and to maintain minimum capital requirements.
Services by product
Commercial banks generally provide a number of services to its clients, these can be split into core banking services such as deposits and loans and other services which are related to payment systems and other financial services.
Core products and services
- Accepting money on various types of Deposit accounts
- Lending money by overdraft, and loans both secured and unsecured.
- Providing transaction accounts
- Cash management
- Treasury management
- Private Equity financing
- Issuing Bank drafts and Bank cheques
- Processing payments via telegraphic transfer, EFTPOS, internet banking, or other payment methods.
Along with core products and services, commercial banks perform several secondary functions. The secondary functions of commercial banks can be divided into agency functions and utility functions.
Agency functions include:
- To collect and clear cheques, dividends and interest warrant
- To make payments of rent, insurance premium
- To deal in foreign exchange transactions
- To purchase and sell securities
- To act as trustee, attorney, correspondent and executor
- To accept tax proceeds and tax returns
Utility functions include:
- To provide safe deposit boxs to customers
- To provide money transfer facility
- To issue traveler’s cheques
- To act as referees
- To accept various bills for payment: phone bills, gas bills, water bills
- To provide various cards such as credit cards and debit cards
- ^de Albuquerque, Martim (1855). Notes and Queries. London: George Bell. p. 431.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.