Are German Banks Different?

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Abstract

ABSTRACT

In recent years there has been a vigorous revival of the long-standing debate about the “uniqueness” of German banks. To date little consensus has been reached; while some see few differences between the role of banks in Germany and in other countries, others claim that universal banks' equity shareholdings in and nomination of representatives to the boards of nonfinancial firms are the key institutional features driving the rest of the “German model” of long-term investment in high-quality, internationally competitive manufacturing. This article argues that the uniqueness of the German banking system lies (1) in its unusually high capacity to provide industrial finance in the form of long-term debt capital, and (2) in its avoidance of the “speculative boom-credit crunch” cycle experienced by almost every other advanced industrialized country in the 1980s and early 1990s. These two key characteristics are attributable to a regulatory framework which involves strict prudential regulation, access to long-term refinancing sources, and a federalist form of corporatism. Furthermore, the behavior of German banks must be analyzed within a broader institutional system of economic governance which includes corporatist labor market institutions and a relatively large and modern SME sector.

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