Risk Bearing, Implicit Financial Services, and Specialization in the Financial Industry Risk Bearing, Implicit Financial Services, and Specialization in the Financial Industry

By J. Christina Wang and Susanto Basu

What is the output of financial institutions? And how can we measure their nominal and, more importantly, real value, especially since many financial services are provided without explicit charges? This paper summarizes the theoretical result that, to correctly impute the nominal value of implicit financial service output, the "user cost of money" framework needs to be extended to take account of the systematic risk in financial instruments. This extension is easy to implement in principle: One can continue using the current imputation procedure, and the only change needed is to adjust the reference rates of interest for risk.

The paper clarifies why the risk-related income is not part of the output-or equivalently, why risk bearing is not a service-of financial institutions. The paper next argues that, to measure real output, one must first explicitly specify and define the economic services produced by financial firms, a step that is absent from the "user cost of money" theory. Once it is established that only financial services, and not instruments, should be counted as the value added of financial firms, it follows that the quantity of services provided by these institutions is not necessarily in fixed proportion to the volume of instruments. The corollary is that the implicit price of financial services bears no definitive relationship with any reference rate. Instead, price deflators for financial services should be constructed using methods similar to those used for other services.