German Banking in Europe
The Reichsbank, by far the most powerful banking institution in Germany, is managed by the bank directory appointed by the chancellor of the empire. The shareholders join in the management through a committee, of which each member must be qualified by holding not less than three shares. The government exercises complete powers of control through the chancellor of the empire. The influence of the Imperial Bank now permeates, by means of its branches, all the separate kingdoms of the empire—the uniformity of coinage introduced through the laws of 1871-1873 rendering this possible. The Imperial Bank assists business principally in two ways—first, through the clearing system (Giro-Verkehr), which it has greatly developed, and secondly, through the facilities given to business by its note circulation. The Imperial Bank also receives deposits, and cheques are drawn against these, but in Germany notes are principally used in payments for ordinary business.
Before the Reichsbank was established, Hamburg was the first, and for a long time the only, example of a clearing in Germany. This was taken up by the Reichsbank when it established its office in Hamburg in the time-honoured building which had belonged to the Hamburg Clearing House. Similar business had long been undertaken by the Bank of Prussia. This was absorbed and developed by the Reichsbank in 1876. Through the “clearing system” money can be remitted from any of the 443 places in which there is an office of the Reichsbank, to any of these places, without charge either to the sender or the receiver. It is sufficient that the person to whom the money is to be remitted should have an account at the bank.
Any person owing him money in the remotest parts of the empire may go to the office of the bank which is most convenient to him and pay in the amount of his debt, which is credited on the following day at the office of the bank, without charge, to the account of his creditor wherever he may reside. The person who makes the payment need not have any account with the bank. The impetus given to business by this arrangement has been very considerable. It practically amounts to a money-order system without charge or risk of loss in transmission. From Hamburg and Bremen to the frontiers of Russia, from the shores of the Baltic to the frontiers of Switzerland, the whole of the empire of Germany has thus become for monetary purposes one country only. The amount of these transfers for the year 1906 exceeded £1,860,000,000.
The note circulation is also a powerful factor of the business of the Reichsbank. It is governed by the law of 1875 and the amending law of 1899, corresponding in some degree to Peel’s act of 1844, which regulates the note circulation of the Bank of England. An uncovered limit, originally £12,500,000, increased to £14,811,450 by the lapse of the issues of other banks allowed to it, has been extended by these and by the act of the 5th of June 1902 to £23,641,450. Against the notes thus issued which are not represented by specie, treasury notes (Reichskassenscheine, the legal tender notes of the empire) and notes of the issuing banks which are allowed to be reckoned as specie or discounted bills, must be held—maturing not later than three months after being taken—with, as a rule, three, but never less than two, good indorsements. There is also a provision that at least one-third of the notes in circulation must be covered by current German notes, money, notes of the imperial treasury, and gold in bullion or foreign coin reckoned at £69, 12s. per pound fine.
The Reichsbank is bound by law to redeem its notes in current German money. It is stated that this may be gold coin or silver thalers, or bar-gold at the rate of 1392 marks (£69, 12s. reckoning marks as 20 = £1) the pound fine of gold. In practice, however, facilities have not always been given by the Reichsbank for the payment of its obligations in gold, though the importance of this is admitted. In the balance-sheet for 1906 the bills held amounted to £67,000,000, and the loans and advances to £14,200,000. The notes issued averaged for the year £69,000,000. The gold held amounted, 30th December 1906, to £24,069,000. If the condition of business requires that the notes in circulation should exceed the limits allowed by the law, the bank is permitted to do this on the payment of 5% on the surplus.
In this respect the German act differs from the English act, which allows no such automatic statutory power of overpassing the limit of issue. Some good authorities consider that this arrangement is an advantage for the German bank, and the fact that it has been made use of annually since 1895 appears to show that it is needed by the business requirements of the country. Of late years the excess of issue of the Reichsbank has been annual and large, having been £25,267,000 on the 29th of September 1906 and £28,632,000 on the 31st of December of the same year. The amount of the duty paid on the excess issue in the year 1906 was £184,764, and the total amount paid thus from 1876 to 1906 was £839,052. The increase of the uncovered limit (untaxed limit of issue called in Germany the “note reserve”) has not been sufficient to obviate the need for an excess of issue beyond the limit.
In accordance with a law passed in 1906 the Imperial Bank issues notes (Reichsbanknoten) of the value of 20 marks (£1), and 50 marks (£2, 10s.) in addition to the 5, 10, 100 and 1000 mark notes (5s., 10s., £5, £50) previously in circulation. Imperial paper currency of the value of 20 or 50 marks (£1 and £2, 10s.) had previously existed only in the form of treasury notes (Reichskassenscheine); these will in consequence be withdrawn from circulation.
The amendment of the banking law of Germany, passed in 1899, not only affects the position of the Reichsbank, but that of the four other note-issuing banks. The capital of the Reichsbank has been raised by the bill of that year to £9,000,000. The reserve fund has been raised out of surplus profits to £3,240,000. This exceeds the amount required by the act of 1899, which was £3,000,000. The amending act further diminishes the dividend receivable by the stockholders of the Reichsbank and increases the share which the government will obtain.
The arrangement with the four note-issuing banks is designed to cause them to work in harmony with the Reichsbank when the Reichsbank has to raise its bank-rate in order to protect its gold reserves. The official published rate of discount of the Reichsbank is to be binding on the private note-issuing banks after it has reached or when it reaches 4%. At other times they are not to discount at more than ¼% below the official rate of the Reichsbank, or in case the Reichsbank itself discounts at a lower rate than the official rate, at more than ⅛% below that rate. If the Reichsbank discounts below the official rate, it is to announce that fact in the Gazette.
The subject being important, we quote from the amending act the sections governing the discount rate:—Gesetz, betreffend die Abänderung des Bankgesetzes vom 14. März 1875; vom 7. Juni 1899, Artikel 7, S. 1. The private note-issuing banks are bound by Artikel 7, S. 2, after the 1st of January 1901:—”(1) Not to discount below the rate published in S. 15 of the bank law, so long as this rate attains or exceeds 4%, and (2) moreover, not to discount at more than ¼% below the Reichsbank rate, published in S. 15 of the bank law, or in case the Reichsbank itself discounts at a lower rate, not to discount at more than ⅛% below that rate.” (1)
A new banking law was promulgated for the whole empire on the 14th of March 1875. Before that date there existed thirty-two banks with the privilege of issuing notes, and on the 31st of December 1872, £67,100,000 in all was in circulation, £25,100,000 of that sum being uncovered. The banking law was designed to reduce this circulation of notes; £19,250,000 was fixed as an aggregate maximum of uncovered notes of the banks. The private banks were at the same time obliged to erect branch offices in Berlin or Frankfort-on-Main for the payment of their notes. In consequence of this regulation numerous banks resigned the privilege of issuing notes, and at present there are in Germany but the following private note banks, issuing private notes, viz. the Bavarian, the Saxon, the Württemberg, the Baden and the Brunswick, in addition to the Imperial Bank.
The Imperial Bank (Reichsbank) ranks far above the others in importance. It took the place of the Prussian Bank in 1876, and is under the superintendence and management of the empire, which shares in the profits. Its head office is in Berlin, and it is entitled to erect branch offices in any part of the empire. It has a capital of £9,000,000 divided into 40,000 shares of £150 each, and 60,000 shares of £50 each. The Imperial Bank is privileged to issue bank-notes, which must be covered to the extent of 1s. 3d. in coined money, bullion or bank-notes, the remainder in bills at short sight. (2)
Notes and References
- Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition)