The custodian-bank business

NO ACTOR has ever sat nude in a bathtub to explain the intricacies of the bank-custody business, as Margot Robbie did for mortgage-backed securities in “The Big Short”, a successful film. The blame lies with the custody business’s virtues, not its flaws.

Instead of the 2% fees Ms Robbie mentions for offloading rubbishy securities onto suckers, bank-custody fees are tallied in hundredths of a percentage point. Custody bankers are generally neither glamorous nor crooked. They are accountants and software engineers catering to well-informed clients: the owners and managers of huge amounts of financial assets. The services they offer include: holding, valuing and transferring securities; receiving interest and dividends; and providing notice of corporate actions. The business grows with the financial markets, but more slowly. Years of almost seamless and scandal-free performance have made the business well-nigh invisible. But not quite.

Custody has habitually been “sticky”: the loss of a large account is unusual. But on January 25th BlackRock, a gargantuan asset manager, announced that it was moving custody assets worth $1trn from State…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

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The custodian-bank business

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