Universal bank

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Universal banks ( English universal banks; also called full banks ) are credit institutions that conduct all banking transactions and offer them to all customer groups. Opposite are the special banks .


Universal banks are the dominant type of banking in the German banking industry. Universal banks can be characterized with regard to the product range structure and with regard to the customer base. For Hans Büschgen , universal banks are characterized by the fact that they combine the deposit and lending business with the securities business , which includes issuing , commission , custody business , investment business and proprietary trading . Thus, through the range of services offered by a universal bank, the requirements made by various customer groups can basically be met.

Legal issues and tasks

The German Banking Act (KWG) does not recognize the term universal banks. If a credit institution carries out a substantial part of the banking transactions listed in Section 1 (1) KWG, it fulfills the requirements of a universal bank. Whether CRR credit institutions belong to the universal banks or special banks depends on the range of products and the customer groups. Since, on the one hand, the term credit is comprehensive under banking law and includes the entire lending business in the broadest sense and, on the other hand, the deposit business also includes the most diverse forms of financial investment, it can be assumed that CRR credit institutions are to be counted among the universal banks. Under banking law, CRR credit institutions operate the banking transactions listed in Section 1 (1) No. 1 to 4 KWG (Section 1 (3d) sentence 4 KWG). The resulting range of products justifies an assignment of the CRR credit institutions to the universal banks.

The term universal banks does not exist in the banking statistics of the Deutsche Bundesbank either; rather, they are hidden within the groups of credit banks ( large banks , regional banks and other credit banks), savings banks and Landesbanks, and cooperative banks .

The business of the universal banks can be divided into:


Place Vendôme - headquarters of the Crédit Mobilier, now the Hôtel Ritz

According to Adolf Weber and later banking history literature, universal banks can be traced back to the French bank Crédit Mobilier . The Société Générale du Crédit Mobilier was a joint stock bank founded on November 18, 1852 by the brothers Émile and Isaac Pereire , which financed industrial financing in France through investment loans and the construction of railways , but also operated the deposit and bills of exchange business. In 1854 she moved to Place Vendôme , where she moved into what is now the Hôtel Ritz . As a result, other banks of this type emerged, which were called "Banques d'affaires" or "Societes financières".

Joseph Schumpeter named after him the “Crédit Mobilier type”, by which he meant universal banks. That is why the first German universal banks were called “Crédit Mobilier banks” for a long time. Unlike the large French private banking houses of the "Haute Banque", which primarily traded in government bonds , Crédit Mobilier placed universal banking at the center of its banking activities. However, the bank collapsed in October 1867, but was not liquidated until 1902.

At that time there was already the Darmstädter Bank für Handel und Industrie in Germany , which was probably the first German bank to take the step to become a universal bank by combining various banking transactions. It was modeled on the "Crédit Mobilier" and was granted a banking license on April 2, 1853 . The Rothschilds also imitated this type of bank by carrying out both short-term and long-term financial transactions and in October 1855 they founded the Österreichische Credit-Anstalt in Vienna . Typical German examples of the “Crédit Mobilier banks” followed in July 1856 by the Berliner Handels-Gesellschaft , Commerzbank (February 1870) and Deutsche Bank (March 1870). In 1912, Eugen Schmalenbach still distinguished the bank types as “Crédit Mobilier banks”, deposit and credit banks, private banks , overseas and foreign banks and cooperative banks. In Cologne's banking sector, too , private bankers successfully operated universal banking as early as the 1830s.

In most countries, by the beginning of the 1880s at the latest, the “Crédit Mobilier” experiment more or less failed because it failed to establish a functioning and stable combination of money market and capital market transactions . The “Crédit Mobilier” experiment was only able to hold its own in the Prussian Rhine Province and in Berlin , in Switzerland and partly in Austria-Hungary . International universal banking experienced a renaissance from 1992.

Banking aspects

The Bank Management examined in particular the differences between universal banks and specialized banks. As a rule, universal banks have a much larger company size - measured in terms of total assets or business volume - than specialist banks. The main difference between the two is business risk . With the same size of company, a universal bank usually has a lower risk than specialist banks, because the former are better able to process economic risks thanks to their broader range of products and customers. The more comprehensive product range policy and / or the focus on many customer groups enable a better diversification and spread of risks, so that both granularity and cluster risks are more favorable; this applies in particular to the existing loan portfolio . Specialized banks, on the other hand, turned out to be "trouble spots" because there was a "considerable coincidence between financial crises and the separate banking system ". The Capital Requirements Regulation, which applies in all EU member states, also assumes a high degree of diversification. According to No. 100 CRR considerations, credit institutions should “hold a diversified buffer of liquid assets in order to be able to cover liquidity requirements in the event of a short-term strained liquidity situation”.

The lack of restriction to one or a few banking transactions and the effect of retail business ultimately lead to cost advantages for universal banks through economies of scale . The reason are fixed cost degressions , as they can result from more favorable capacity utilization . In addition, economies of scope can also be demonstrated through the shared use of production factors, whereby synergies can be used. The modern all-finance concept can also be traced back to the universal bank concept. That universal banks, the criticism conflicts of interest could expose (if such knowledge in the investment banking in the counseling of private clients are used) can be determined by full respect of compliance rules , use of compliance management systems to firewall be countered -regulations. In addition, banks must of interests to §§ 63 and 80 German Securities Trading Act (WpHG) countered by organizational measures.


There has been an unmistakable development towards the universal banking system since Great Britain abandoned the separate banking system in 1986 and now “deposit banks”, “merchant banks” and “investment banks” exist side by side. Since the Banking Act of 1987 there has been the uniform term of the "authorized institution", whose activities must include both the deposit business and the lending business. After Portugal also made universal banks possible in 1992, the OECD came to the conclusion in the same year that there was a worldwide trend in favor of the universal banking system. In the USA, the separation banking system was dissolved by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of November 1999 and the fact that all major investment banks were either taken over by universal banks or changed their status to universal banks as part of the financial crisis from 2007 onwards .

The large Swiss ( Credit Suisse and UBS ) and Austrian banks ( Raiffeisen Bank International , Bank Austria , Erste Bank and BAWAG PSK ) are exclusively universal banks .

Further development

The extensive proprietary trading that previously existed at large, universally active banks is subject to "ring fencing" in the EU member states . In Art. 2 No. 4, the Separate Banks Act introduced a separate banking system for universal banks in January 2014, including Section 25f KWG, according to which the activities of the investment bank are to be outsourced from the commercial bank ("ringfencing"). Until July 2016, all banking business within the meaning of Section 3 (2) and (4) KWG must be carried out in an economically, organizationally and legally independent company (financial trading institute) at universally active major banks . These are "prohibited transactions", which include proprietary trading in derivatives and securities with the exception of market makers or credit and guarantee transactions with hedge funds . A materiality threshold stipulates that only universally active large banks are affected, whose trading portfolio and liquidity reserve exceed EUR 100 billion ( absolute threshold ) or 20% of their total assets and reach at least EUR 90 billion ( relative threshold ). In addition, Section 25f (1) and Section 64s (2) KWG stipulate that, from July 1, 2015, CRR credit institutions will have two forms of proprietary trading within one year of exceeding the threshold values, namely

  • proprietary business faked as proprietary trading by section 1 (1a) sentence 3 KWG (section 3 (2) sentence 2 no.1 KWG) (with the exception of proprietary trading on behalf of customers) and
  • proprietary trading using a high-frequency algorithmic trading technique (section 1 (1a) sentence 2 no. 4d KWG) - with the exception of market making - and
  • the loan and guarantee business with hedge funds

have to outsource to a financial trading institution.

Individual evidence

  1. Manfred Hein: Introduction to Banking Operations , 1993, p. 14
  2. Wolfgang Kehl: Die Universalbank , 1978, p. 26 ff.
  3. Hans Büschgen: Bankbetriebslehre: Banking business and bank management , 1998, p. 69
  4. Christoph Schäfers: Range extensions at universal banks , 1999, p. 34
  5. ^ Adolf Weber: Depositenbanken und Spekulationsbanken , 1938, p. 9
  6. Joseph Schumpeter: Business cycles: A theoretical, historical and statistical analysis of the capitalist process , 1961, p. 666
  7. Lothar Gall: The Deutsche Bank from its foundation to the First World War , 1995, p. 27 f.
  8. ^ Fritz-Georg Steiner: Saint-Simonist origins of modern banking , in: Bank Archive No. 15, 1930, p. 333
  9. Journal for Commercial Research , Volume 6, 1912, p. 263
  10. ^ Richard Tilly : German Banking 1850-1914: Devolopment Assistence for the Strong , 1986, p. 295
  11. Paul Windolf: Finanzmarkt-Kapitalismus: Analyzes for the Change of Production Regiment, special issue 45, 2005, p. 281
  12. George J Benston: Universal Banking , in: Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol 8 (3), 1994, pp 121-143
  13. Martin Kohlhaussen : The countries with a separate banking system have proven to be trouble spots , in: Handelsblatt No. 92 of May 13, 1993, p. B12 / B14
  14. Hilmar Kopper : The universal bank is not a discontinued model: Resistance to crises as a trump card , in: BZ No. 67 of April 5, 1995, p. 26
  15. ^ The banking system in Austria: Festschrift for Hans Krasensky on his 80th birthday , Österreichische Bankwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, 1983, p. 84
  16. Christoph J. Börner: Strategisches Bankmanagement , 2000, p. 351 f.
  17. Hans-Jürgen Bieling: International Political Economy: An Introduction , 2011, p. 147
  18. Jürgen Krumnow / Ludwig Gramlich (ed.): Gabler Bank-Lexikon: Bank - Börse --finanz , 2000, p. 1272
  19. Banks under Stress , OECD (Ed.), 1992, pp. 50-63
  20. Oliver Everling, Karl-Heinz Goedeckemeyer: Bankenrating: Normative Bankenordnung in der Finanzmarktkrise , 2015, p. 389 f.