The word “bank” originates from the Italian word “banco.” This is a desk or bench, covered by a green tablecloth, that was used several hundred years ago by Florentine bankers. The traditional role of banks has been to take deposits and make loans. The interest charged on the loans is greater than the interest paid on deposits. The difference between the two has to cover administrative costs and loan losses (i.e., losses when borrowers fail to make the agreed payments of interest and principal), while providing a satisfactory return on equity.
Today, most large banks engage in both commercial and investment banking. Commercial banking involves, among other things, the deposit-taking and lending activities we have just mentioned. Investment banking is concerned with assisting companies in raising debt and equity, and providing advice on mergers and acquisitions, major corporate restructurings, and other corporate finance decisions. Large banks are also often involved in securities trading (e.g., by providing brokerage services).
Commercial banking can be classified as retail banking or wholesale banking. Retail banking, as its name implies, involves taking relatively small deposits from private individuals or small businesses and making relatively small loans to them. Wholesale banking involves the provision of banking services to medium and large corporate clients, fund managers, and other financial institutions. Both loans and deposits are much larger in wholesale ...