For those struggling to unglue themselves from the constant coverage of the novel coronavirus, or for anyone who has visited a grocery store lately, it would be difficult not to notice that a few key staples — including toilet paper — seem to be in short supply.
A recent Bloomberg article by Millie Munshi, Megan Durisin, and Corinne Gretler notes that — while there is plenty of food — the logistics systems used to deliver food throughout the country (and around the world) and the ability to get those products to shelves is strained under a sudden surge of customers stocking up on food and supplies.
It turns out that the problem isn’t supply — there is plenty of toilet paper in the world. The issue is the sudden surge in demand driven by the fear that, with everyone else rushing to buy toilet paper, there won’t be enough for all of us. This, in turn, drives people to buy more than they normally would out of concern for scarcity. In other words, the shortage of available supply isn’t driven by need, it’s driven by fear that others will get to the shelves first — a sort of self-fulfilling fear. President Franklin D. Roosevelt may have summed it up best when, in his first inaugural address, he said the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Getting consumers to believe that there will be sufficient supply — even if we can’t be certain that there will be — should be sufficient to restore calm, which in turn would restore sufficient supply on store shelves.
This same underlying dynamic is what drives bank runs, perhaps visualized best by Frank Capra in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Under the Fed’s Reserve requirements, banks are required to hold 10% of checking deposits in-branch, informed by probabalistic models that suggest that such cash reserves are sufficient to meet the needs of customers withdrawing funds on any given day. However, if customers become concerned that their neighbors will rush to the bank to withdraw funds, the desire to withdraw one’s own funds becomes more acute. Fear and panic become self-fulfilling.
The FDIC was instituted in the wake of the Great Depression to help address this concern. By backstopping deposits by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government, depositors no longer needed to worry about whether there would be enough cash in the bank, as even in the unlikely event that a bank were to fail, customers would be fully repaid by the FDIC. The FDIC thus remains a crucial component driving the safety and stability of our banking sector.
There is a notable exception to the protections afforded by the FDIC: it is limited, currently capped at $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per bank charter. This means that if you hold accounts at a bank (checking, savings, CDs) that, in aggregate, exceed $250,000, you may not be fully protected and could suffer loss of principal in the event of bank failure.
There’s an easy way to protect yourself: spread cash across multiple account types (individual, joint) and multiple banks. Services like MaxMyInterest.com were designed to help you do just this, automatically monitoring your accounts and helping keep funds below the FDIC limit at each bank. With a market-leading rate of up to 1.71% APY, Max can also help you earn higher yields on your cash, automatically.
When fear grips markets — whether the market is for toilet paper or bank deposits — the perceived risk of scarcity can lead to a vicious cycle that creates the scarcity that is feared. During these challenging times, the better we’re able to promote rationality over fear, the better we’ll all manage through as a society.
To some, the global financial crisis of 2008-2010 may seem a distant memory. But it was almost 11 years ago today that the crisis was at its peak, sending some of the largest banks in the country to the brink of insolvency, while others failed entirely. As lending dried up, the broader economy suffered, leading the S&P 500 Index to decline by more than 50%, a dramatic fall that shook the confidence of an entire generation of investors.
Banks that seemed rock-solid were failing, and the larger the bank, the more complex were its exposures and thus the more difficult it was to assess its safety. It was against this backdrop that I began managing my own cash more actively, in search of greater safety and liquidity.
The Role of the FDIC
In the wake of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress enacted the Banking Act of 1933, which paved the way for the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC helped create a level playing field for banks, backstopping depositors with the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government. The FDIC thus conferred upon bank deposits the same credit risk as U.S. Treasurys — up to a cap — giving depositors confidence that their deposits were safe.
During the Financial Crisis, the FDIC raised the deposit insurance limit to $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per bank charter, and it has remained at this level ever since. By spreading cash across multiple banks, depositors can avail themselves of even more FDIC insurance coverage, making it possible to keep even larger sums of cash fully insured.
Maximizing Yield and Safety
At the time of the Financial Crisis, I was working as an investment banker at one of the largest banks in the country and witnessed first-hand the risks that depositors faced, particularly if they were holding more than the FDIC insurance limit in cash. I started looking for a way to keep my own cash safe and liquid.
Brokerage firms were marketing brokered deposit solutions that they claimed increased deposit insurance coverage, but the deeper I dug into these products, the more flaws I found. I determined that these brokered deposit offerings — in which a bank or brokerage firm sells your deposits to other banks to earn a profit while claiming to offer increased FDIC coverage — all suffered from the same fundamental flaw: the funds all flowed through an intermediary institution, so if the institution selling brokered deposits were to fail, depositors might lose access to all their funds until that institution was bailed out. Put differently, these solutions — marketed as a means of reducing risk — were in fact riskiest in precisely the circumstances that they were designed to help you avoid.
I decided that the best way to keep cash safe was much simpler: keep it in my own bank accounts. I could hold these accounts directly in my own name and spread my cash across multiple banks so that even if one bank were to fail, I’d still have access to funds at other banks while the failing bank went through the FDIC resolution process. No brokers. No intermediaries. Just my own cash sitting in my own bank accounts.
The challenge, of course, was monitoring all of these accounts. I found myself logging into multiple bank accounts each month to monitor balances and rates. Accrued interest pushed me over the FDIC limit, and as time went on, I noticed that banks were changing their rates all the time, meaning that I found myself having to constantly monitor rates and shift funds from bank to bank to ensure I was getting the best deal. There had to be a better way.
My experience managing cash during the financial crisis led to the creation of MaxMyInterest, a simple cash management solution that fully automates this cash management strategy, enabling anyone to benefit from increased FDIC insurance coverage and higher yields. Max is now used by advisors at more than a thousand wealth management firms with collectively more than $1 trillion of assets under management. Clients using Max typically earn thousands to tens-of-thousands of dollars of incremental interest income each year, automatically.
How Max Works
Max works by helping you link your existing brick-and-mortar checking account or brokerage account to your choice of higher-yielding online banks. Each bank is backed by FDIC insurance coverage. By spreading funds across multiple banks, you can increase liquidity and FDIC insurance coverage at the same time. And because online banks have lower operating costs, they tend to pay much higher rates than brick-and-mortar banks or brokerage firms, so you can earn higher returns on your cash at the same time.
Opening new bank accounts is now easier than ever. You can open as many accounts as you like, and unlike credit cards, there’s no impact to your credit rating when you open savings accounts. The Max platform makes it even easier, making it possible to open, link, and begin funding new savings accounts in as little as 60 seconds using Max’s patented Common Application. But even without Max, you can pursue this same strategy of opening and managing a portfolio of bank accounts on your own.
Max simply automates the process for you, monitoring interest rates daily. Each month, Max helps your funds flow whichever of your banks is offering the highest interest rates. So not only do you benefit from increased safety and liquidity, you can earn higher yield, too.
The Fed Funds Rate
When Max launched in 2014, the Fed Funds target rate was 0% to 0.25%. You can think of the Federal Reserve as a bank for banks, and so the Fed Funds rate is effectively the rate at which banks can borrow from (or lend funds to) the Fed overnight. Against that backdrop, the average rate paid on savings accounts across the country was a paltry 0.12%. Still, online banks — owing to their lower operating costs — were able to pay higher yield, approximately 0.90% at the time. As a result, depositors who were astute enough to open savings accounts at online banks could pick up an extra 80 basis points, or 0.80%, of risk-free incremental return, simply by being a bit smarter about where they were holding their cash.
Beginning in December 2016, the Fed began raising rates in earnest. Online banks raised their rates, too, reaching a peak of 2.25%. The banks supported on the Max platform raised their rates even higher, since Max saves them from having to spend money on advertising or customer acquisition. As a result, the top rate earned by Max members reached 2.72%, a rate that enabled customers to earn more on cash than they might pay on a 7/1 adjustable-rate mortgage!
As the Fed has begun to cut rates, the rates paid by online banks also began to decline, but at a slower pace than the Fed rate cuts. Bankers call the relationship between the change in interest rates paid by banks and the Fed Funds rate the deposit beta. At lower interest rates, online bank deposit betas have tended to average around 0.6, which means that for every 100 bps change in the Fed Funds rate, banks only adjust their rates by 60 bps.
At Max, our data suggest that if the Fed were to lower its target range to 0% to 0.25% (as it was following the Financial Crisis), the online banks will still pay approximately 0.80% to 1.00% on savings accounts. So while interest rates may not be as high as they were in 2019 when the economy was booming, savvy depositors can still earn above-market rates on cash simply by paying more attention to where they keep their funds.
The Yield Curve
We’re living through extraordinary times. The shock of 9/11 pummeled airlines and impacted the economy, but as a country, we rebounded and rebuilt and enjoyed a long bull run that lasted from the Gulf War through to the Financial Crisis. The Financial Crisis prompted a deeper and more prolonged shock to the economy, but the 11-year bull run that has followed generated tremendous wealth, particularly for those who had liquidity and were able to buy at or near market lows. It’s still too early to estimate the impact of COVID-19 on the markets, but at present, it appears that we’re in for both supply and demand shocks, which could result in a prolonged recession that will require fiscal stimulus, not just monetary stimulus. At present, the most pressing social issues relate to health and safety. Financial recovery cannot begin until our epidemiological prognosis improves.
The Role of Cash
In good times, holding cash may feel like a wasted opportunity, as it often barely keeps pace with inflation. But cash is, as it turns out, a remarkably valuable thing to have on hand when markets turn volatile, both because it gives you the confidence to avoid selling at the wrong time, and also the ability to buy at the right time. While you can’t perfectly time the market, it’s possible to be disciplined about increasing your exposure to the market over time through dollar-cost averaging. Removing emotion from the equation enables you to buy equal amounts when stock prices are rising or falling, smoothing out your cost basis. It might feel counterintuitive, but that’s often the winning strategy, enabling you to follow Warren Buffet’s advice to be “greedy when others are fearful.”
Those who had sufficient cash reserves to resist the temptation to sell, or who bought the S&P 500 during the scariest days of the Financial Crisis, ultimately experienced a more than 300% gain in the decade that followed. While it can be tempting to let emotion sidetrack your long-term plans, holding a large cash cushion can give you the fortitude to remain a disciplined investor and focus rationally on the long term. And if you’re going to hold a cash cushion, you ought to ensure it’s safe and earning as much as possible. If history is any guide, Max will continue to deliver the highest yields in the market on fully-insured, same-day liquid deposits.
If you have a financial emergency — an unexpectedly high medical bill, a sudden move across the country, or a job loss — how will you pay for it? Most financial advisors recommend keeping a separate emergency fund that you wall off from your retirement and other lifecycle-related savings accounts. This will allow you to meet urgent funding needs without having to take money from your retirement or educational accounts, which can lead to penalties and tax bills.
It can be difficult to get started with an emergency fund, especially if you’re focused on specific savings goals like buying a house or paying tuition. The best way to make saving a habit is to use behavioral-finance techniques to your advantage. Open an online-savings account at a bank that pays high interest rates, and set up automatic monthly transfers from the main checking or brokerage account where your paycheck gets deposited. That way, you won’t have to think about making a manual deposit. It’s okay if you start with a small amount; the important thing is to be consistent.
While you’re setting up your emergency fund, make sure that you’re earning the highest interest rate possible. This will harness the power of compound interest, which means that the money in your account will earn interest as it sits there, and, if you don’t take it out, will accumulate as the interest goes back into the account to earn even more interest.
Why does this matter? Your emergency fund, by design, is money that you are going to keep on the sidelines and — hopefully — never have to use. Because you are not going to invest it in securities, which are risky, you want to make sure that you can earn as much as possible in interest on your cash in this account. Earning higher interest can help your emergency fund keep pace with inflation.
It’s also important that your emergency fund be kept in an account that’s fully liquid. If you have to access this money, you may need it immediately; you won’t have time to wait the three days that a money market fund will take to get the money back to you. An online savings account solves this problem. You can have the money wired back to your checking account same-day.
Are these accounts safe? Any bank account that is FDIC-insured is backed by the federal government up to $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per institution. If the bank goes under — unlikely, but still possible — the FDIC will return your money up to this limit.
One good way to make sure your emergency fund is FDIC-insured and kept in the highest-rate online-savings accounts possible is to use technology solutions, like MaxMyInterest, to manage it. Max isn’t a bank; it’s software that automatically allocates your funds among high-yielding accounts at online banks, to make sure your money always earns as much as it can safely. You can learn more at MaxMyInterest.com.
With Max, earn more on your cash while keeping your existing checking account, or using a brokerage account.
You’d like your cash to earn more — but you don’t want to switch banks.
Enter Max, an intelligent cash management service for intelligent investors. It offers a way to see all your cash at once, while earning you higher yield and obtaining broader FDIC insurance coverage. Max even simplifies tax season, delivering all 1099-INT statements by email in a single password-protected PDF.
Max works with your existing checking account — unless you’d rather open a new checking account or use your brokerage account. Here’s how:
Transactional Checking Account
Most investors have a checking account at a bank that they use to pay bills, accept direct deposit of their paychecks or partnership distributions, and manage their household finances. Many Max members link this checking account to Max, because they value Max’s automated optimization that restores their checking account to their pre-set target balance each month.. For example, if you tell Max that you wish to keep $30,000 in checking, but Max finds only $22,000 at the time of your monthly optimization, it will pull $8,000 from savings to bring you back to your target balance of $30,000. Similarly, if Max finds excess cash sitting in your checking account, it will automatically be swept to your online savings accounts, where it can earn more. We typically advise that clients set their target checking account balance to be slightly higher than their monthly working capital needs, to ensure an ample cash cushion.
Separate Checking Account
Some Max members elect to open a new checking account reserved specifically for Max. They move into this account any funds they wish to optimize, link their online savings accounts, and start optimizing. Often they set a low target balance on this checking account, since they don’t plan to use it for any purpose aside from Max.
This setup functions much like a separately managed account, allowing members to cordon off a specific amount of cash to be optimized, separate from the other cash in their portfolios, and not impacted by their daily transactional activity. They can view and manage this cash from the Max dashboard, and when they need to access this cash, they can move it back to the checking account using Max’s Intelligent Funds TransferSM feature, or wire it elsewhere directly from their online bank accounts. It’s easy to open a new checking account online, without visiting a bank branch.
Many people keep a significant portion of their cash in their brokerage account. Max supports bank and cash management accounts at brokerage houses including Charles Schwab Bank and Fidelity. This strategy takes full advantage of Max to garner additional FDIC coverage and higher interest rates on the cash that’s not currently invested. Most brokerage accounts pay less than 0.1% on your deposits, while the Max average is 1.00%. Historically, investors who chose to maintain cash as dry powder, on hand to deploy when market opportunities presented themselves, typically lost out on the ability to earn interest on these funds. With Max, that’s no longer a problem. You can earn dramatically more while keeping your cash liquid and easily accessible, within reach when it’s time to trade. Since the average HNW investor is holding 23.7% of his or her portfolio in cash, picking up an extra 0.90% of interest income on cash is equivalent to earning an extra 0.21% across your entire portfolio.
Max members are earning about 10 times more on their cash than the national average.
With the move towards the fiduciary standard across the investment-management landscape, financial advisors increasingly are looking at how they can make sure their clients are getting this standard of advice for the cash portion of their portfolios as well as for their securities. That’s where Max comes in.
Cash is the one asset class that’s present in every portfolio. But a near-zero-interest-rate environment over the last few years has meant that investors overwhelmingly are earning almost nothing on cash. The national average on savings accounts is 11 basis points — 0.11%. As a fiduciary, an advisor is bound to give advice that’s in a client’s best interest financially. For cash, this means advisors have to seek out ways that clients can earn more interest while remaining insured under the FDIC deposit guarantees.
– Think carefully before using money market funds
Money market funds are a traditional substitute for cash, because they’re designed always to trade at a stable $1 per share. But with new regulations, these funds may now be able to hold onto investors’ money if markets are in turmoil. That means that clients may not be able to get their money out of a money market fund when they need it most. With this lower level of safety, and essentially no yield, money market funds may not be up to the fiduciary standard as a cash equivalent.
– Use online banks
Online banks don’t have branches, so their cost structure is considerably less than their brick-and-mortar competitors. This imbalance allows them to offer higher interest rates to depositors — above 1%, in some cases, making online banks the highest-yielding places to park cash that clients wish to keep fully liquid. FDIC-insured online banks have the same federal deposit guarantee as any other U.S. bank protected under the program.
– Seek more FDIC coverage
Many investors don’t realize that exceeding the FDIC limits in their accounts means that excess money may not be safe if something happens to the bank. If your clients hold more cash than the FDIC limit — $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per institution — you should consider helping them open accounts at additional banks to gain FDIC coverage for as much of their cash as possible. Keeping cash safe is a prerequisite for fiduciaries.
It’s possible to get both higher interest on cash and greater FDIC coverage. That’s what Max provides for advisors and their clients through the Max Advisor Dashboard. The average Max client is currently earning more than 1.00% on cash and enjoying FDIC coverage across several institutions. Learn more about how you and your clients can benefit at MaxForAdvisors.com.
The U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C. (Source: Treasury.gov)
Certain truths are thought to be self-evident, like the idea that bonds always pay more than cash in the bank. In today’s interest-rate environment, that’s not true. The highest interest Max members can earn is now 1.05%, while the 5-year U.S. Treasury bond currently yields 1.03% and the 3-year bond yields 0.77%. It’s part of the worldwide flight to high-quality assets after the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union. Many investors are worried that “Brexit” may severely hurt the world’s economy.
What does this mean for investors? Both yields are backed by the U.S. government; the Treasury bond is a government obligation, while Max members are holding their cash within FDIC-insured savings accounts at online banks that are also guaranteed by the government. So the risk profile is the same.
FDIC-insured bank deposits are fully liquid, meaning you can withdraw your money at any time. Bonds, on the other hand, aren’t risk-free; changes in interest rates can cause their prices to rise or fall, introducing what’s known as duration risk. If you buy a bond now and then yields rise, you’re locked in at the old, lower yield, meaning the market will be willing to pay less for your bond and the price will fall. So unless you hold it to maturity — the entire five years — you’ll lose money.
While buying a Treasury bond means you’re exposed to changes in interest rates, Max members benefit from optimized rates. If the rates on their online savings accounts change, Max will automatically rebalance their funds into higher-earning accounts.
So why would anyone buy Treasury bonds? Normally, if you’re willing to lock up your money for longer periods of time, you get paid more for taking that duration risk. But not today. At these yields, you can earn more with overnight bank deposits than you can even on a five-year Treasury. This inefficiency impacts hundreds of billions of dollars of cash held by individual investors.
We built Max to make it easier for individual investors to more effectively manage the cash that they hold, whether it’s in their bank accounts or brokerage accounts. Max simultaneously delivers higher yield and broader FDIC insurance coverage, with full liquidity, and without switching banks.
The national average yield on cash held in savings accounts is 0.11%, and many bank and brokerage accounts pay even less. If you’d like to earn more on your cash, or are seeking broader FDIC insurance coverage, or want to keep your funds fully liquid and don’t want to take the risk of investing in Treasurys when it seems like yields have nowhere to go but up (and thus the value of those bonds have nowhere to go but down), keeping cash in high-yielding online savings accounts might be the answer for you.
Understanding FDIC limits can keep your cash safe in the bank.
When the stock market experiences choppiness and the global economy teeters, investors wonder about the safety of their money in the bank. In the U.S., we’re fortunate that our cash, with certain limitations, is protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). This means that as long as you keep your deposits within the limits, your cash in the bank is safe, no matter what happens to the bank.
Here are 5 things to know about the FDIC and your money.
FDIC insurance limits
During the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the FDIC limit was raised from $100,000 per depositor, per account type, per institution, to $250,000. This means that a couple can keep $1 million in a single bank: $250,000 in the first spouse’s name, $250,000 in the second spouse’s name, and $500,000 — or $250,000 each — in a joint account held in both their names. If you hold more than this amount in cash, you may want to open accounts at multiple banks.
Most U.S. banks are part of FDIC. Those that are will display the FDIC logo on their website and in their branches. If you don’t see it, ask, or check the FDIC website.
Here’s the list of accounts that the FDIC insures at banks: “checking, NOW (Negotiable Order of Withdrawal) accounts, savings accounts, money market deposit accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs).” Note that money-market funds are not a bank product and don’t fall under FDIC protection. What’s also not covered are any investments you hold: “stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance policies, annuities, or municipal securities, even if you purchased these products from an insured bank or savings association.”
Some banks hold multiple bank charters and may spread your deposit accounts across these charters. That will increase the amount of FDIC insurance you are entitled to claim. Ask your bank about this.
Managing your accounts
If you hold a significant amount of cash, spreading it out among different institutions in FDIC-insured parcels is a smart way to increase your amount of deposit insurance. Be sure to monitor the accounts so that your cash doesn’t exceed the limit at each bank. Max handles this automatically for members. Learn how Max can help you optimize your FDIC-insured cash.
Max helps you earn dramatically more on your cash, without switching banks. Max also helps you obtain more FDIC insurance coverage, up to $2 million per individual or $8 million per couple.
Start with your existing checking or brokerage account, and then link additional higher-yielding savings accounts at some of the nation's leading FDIC-insured online banks. Max keeps an eye out for changes in interest rates, helping your money automatically flow to the banks that offer the best rates, while keeping your balances below the FDIC insurance limit at each bank. Max also helps you maintain a target checking account balance each month.
Max lets you see all balances on one screen, transfer funds with a single click, and obtain all 1099-INT tax forms in a single PDF.