What Are Money Center Banks?

Money Center Banks Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

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A money center bank is a type of bank that raises the majority of its funds from either domestic or international money markets. They tend to rely less on their depositors for funds than traditional banks. 

Let’s examine how money center banks work and their role in the financial space. 

Definition and Examples of Money Center Banks

Not all banks operate the same way. Instead of relying on depositors for funds, money center banks raise the majority of their funds from domestic or international money markets. Money markets deal in short-term debts, usually issued for less than a year, so borrowers and lenders can meet their short-term financial needs.

You may be familiar with money center banks because they are large, well-known banks. These five major banks are examples of money center banks:

  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Citigroup
  • J. P. Morgan Chase
  • HSBC Bank USA (formerly Republic NY Corporation)

Money center banks tend to pursue international banking business and maintain a significant amount of international assets. They are less determined by their asset or lending size than they are by how they do business and earn profits.

Most often, money center banks are headquartered in large metropolitan areas like Chicago or New York City, but they can have branches elsewhere. Generally, they act as national and regional centers for the correspondent banking services offered to smaller community banks.

Money center banks exist internationally. Those that specialize in trading transactions tend to be located in major European financial centers such as Paris, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg.

The activities of money center banks are regulated by the International Chamber of Commerce (I.C.C.), based in Paris. It exerts strict control over world banking procedures.

How Do Money Center Banks Work?

Money center banks often participate in the secondary market trading of government securities, acting as primary dealers. 

It’s common for money center banks to access more of their liquid funds from the borrowed funds markets than core deposit markets. That can make them more vulnerable to liquidity risks than banks that rely more on core deposits for liquid funds. 

In general, money center banks tend to have more financial flexibility than smaller banks, as they can access alternative sources of funds that allow them to generate other types of earning assets.

Money center banks are authorized to issue blocks of debt instruments, such as:

  • Bank purchase orders: Purchase orders are used to help a company continue its operations and pay its suppliers to meet customer demands during times of tight cash flow. 
  • Promissory bank notes: A promissory note, which can be issued by a bank, outlines a “promise to pay” agreement regarding borrowed money.
  • Medium-term notes: In contrast to short- or long-term notes, medium-term notes have a medium-term length, usually about five to 10 years. 
  • Zero coupon bonds: Zero coupon bonds do not pay interest to the bondholder. Instead, they are sold at a discount for the bondholder to profit when the bond matures, or becomes due.
  • Documentary or commercial letters of credit: Letters of credit help buyers and sellers reduce their risk with payment and deliveries. Commercial (or documentary) letters of credit are used in international trade.
  • Standby letters of credit: Standby letters of credit are a type of guarantee that the holder will be repaid in the event of something going wrong or failing to happen. 
  • Bank debenture instruments: Debentures are issued to investors without the backing of collateral. Instead, they are backed by the creditworthiness and reputation of the issuer.

To manage intraday cash flow, money center banks trade federal funds among themselves. For example, if a money center bank issues a homebuyer a mortgage loan, that money center bank then makes a large payment to the seller’s bank on the buyer’s closing day. If the buyer’s money center bank doesn’t have adequate reserves at that moment, it can raise them in the money market.

Key Takeaways

  • Money center banks are banks that raise most of their funds from domestic or international money markets instead of from depositors.
  • Bank of New York, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, J. P. Morgan Chase, and HSBC Bank USA are all examples of money center banks. 
  • Neither asset size nor lending size plays a role in determining if a bank is a money center bank or not. 
  • Most often, money center banks are headquartered in big cities like New York City or Chicago.
  • Money center banks are authorized to issue certain blocks of debt instruments.