How the 2008 Financial Crisis led to a better way to manage cash

Maklay62 / Pixabay

(Originally published on ValueWalk April 28, 2020)

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that “history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” The events of the past few months have certainly conjured up many memories of the Financial Crisis, and for those following bank stocks, the emotional roller coaster of 2008-2009 feels all-too-present today. The fate of many of our nation’s banks may rest largely on how long our economic paralysis is sustained in support of the greater good of public health.

Bankers and research analysts agree that American banks are much better-capitalized than they were a dozen years ago and should be able to withstand several months of severe economic contraction. But if the economy were to remain largely shut for six months, absent a windfall of additional money-printing from the Fed, another financial crisis could ensue atop our existing humanitarian crisis.

With all this doom and gloom, there is a glimmer of hope. Like every other financial or humanitarian catastrophe to befall our modern age – World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, Black Monday, the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, the Dot-com bust, 9/11, and the most recent Financial Crisis  – the path downwards has been followed by an even more ebullient path upwards. The shape, timeline, and certainly of any future recovery is unknowable, but we can hold out hope that it will at least rhyme with the events of the past.

I’ve had the experience of living and working through several market dislocations. From each one, I’ve sought to learn how to extrapolate from relevant data and facts, and, perhaps more importantly, how to recognize and curtail emotions. While every investment brochure disclaims that “past performance is not indicative of future results,” as an investor, it’s important to learn from your own past performance and journal your mistakes. Only by dissecting your thought processes at the time – both rational and emotional – can you endeavor to make better decisions the next time you are faced with a similar set of facts and circumstances.

Online Banks: The Financial Crisis As Inspiration

I was stationed in Tokyo during the Financial Crisis, working as an investment banker for one of the largest American banks, which had recently acquired one of Japan’s largest brokerage firms. I arrived in August 2007, just after closing the last private equity-based capital raise that involved so-called “Toggle Notes,” where a borrower could elect whether to pay the interest it owed in cash or in-kind (i.e. more debt.) It was illustrative of just how favorable the capital markets had become for issuers – a sign of a raging bull market where seemingly nothing could go wrong.

As an analyst on Wall Street in the late 90s, I learned that the hallmark of the late stage of a bull market is when the market “climbs a wall of worry.” In other words, in spite of each piece of bad news that could befall the economy, stock market indices continue to march upwards. In addition to overly accommodating capital markets, several other more pedestrian warning signs were also present by the summer of 2007. The drivers who shuttled me home from the office late at night were increasingly talking about their stock market gains and the houses they were flipping for profit. In-flight magazines contained countless ads for hi-rise luxury condominium developments. Were these signs of a healthy economy where the rising tide lifts all boats, or a warning that the pace of wealth creation was unsustainable?

As 2007 progressed into 2008, the unsustainability of the bubble in asset prices became all-too-apparent, and banks began to fail. From 2008 through 2012, the FDIC closed a staggering 465 banks. To put this in context, in the five years prior to 2008, only ten banks had failed. The bank where I worked didn’t fare much better. Bearing witness, first-hand, to such a precipitous fall from grace taught me an important lesson in the fragility of banks. No matter how storied the name or how solid the marble that adorns its branch entrances, banks exist at the pleasure of investors and depositors’ willingness to extend credit in exchange for levered returns.

The Importance Of Keeping Cash Safe

In response to the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and Congress enacted the Banking Act of 1933, paving the way for the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). When my bank’s share price hit $0.97 in March of 2009, it struck me that much of my cash held at that bank might be in peril. While the FDIC provides deposit insurance, that coverage is limited, and every dollar that you hold above the FDIC insurance cap makes you, in effect, an unsecured creditor of that bank. I realized that in order to keep cash safe, I needed a better solution.

I began researching options for cash. Many banks and brokerage firms offered brokered deposit solutions, where a bank takes your excess deposits and sells them to other banks. The pitch is that this helps you obtain increased FDIC coverage, and so you should feel safe keeping all of your funds at your home bank or brokerage account. But my research revealed several risks inherent in this system, as well as large conflicts of interest. If I was to ensure all my cash was safe and liquid, I needed a better solution.

The best thing I could think of was to open new bank accounts at multiple banks and diversify my holdings by spreading my cash across them. I’d hold each account in my own name, control how much was kept at each bank (to ensure all funds remained below the FDIC limit at each bank), and retain full same-day liquidity at each bank. Unlike brokered deposits, where you might not be fully insured if the broker sells your deposits to a bank where you already hold accounts, and where you could lose access to all your funds if your main bank goes under, with my strategy, I knew that I’d maintain full control, full liquidity, and full FDIC-insurance coverage.

Online Banks And Interest Rates

In 2009, online banking was still relatively nascent, but, it turned out, opening new accounts at online banks was much faster and easier than going into a bank branch. I opened accounts at several of the leading online banks, which also happened to offer higher interest rates than their brick-and-mortar peers, owing to their lower operating cost structure. Much like Amazon had figured out how to sell a textbook cheaper by eschewing physical stores, online banks applied this concept to banking, making it possible to earn a higher interest rate on FDIC-insured savings accounts.

Still, the online banks changed their rates with great frequency, and often when I logged in to check my balances, I found that interest rates had changed. It occurred to me that I could move funds from one bank to another to benefit from yet-higher interest rates. For the next three-and-a-half years, I found myself logging in each month, checking rates, and manually moving funds from bank to bank to obtain the highest yield while keeping all my funds FDIC-insured.

This strategy could be highly lucrative (effectively capturing a pure arbitrage in the market for bank deposits) but also a huge time sink. There had to be a better way. How could I automate this process, so that my money could continue to earn the highest yields possible without my having to lift a finger? And if I could find a way to automate the management of my own cash, why couldn’t I open up this same strategy to anyone else who wanted to simultaneously earn higher yields with less risk?

Online Banks: Conclusion

The result: I created my own automated cash management platform – MaxMyInterest.com. Seven years and three patents later, Max is now the highest-yielding cash management solution in the United States, used by financial advisors at thousands of wealth management firms with more than $1 trillion of assets under management. With a top yield of 1.71%, Max stands above all other cash options offered by banks and brokerage firms – yet, the core premise remains the same as it was back in 2009: deliver the best yields, fully FDIC-insured, with same-day liquidity and no conflicts of interest.

While it may be difficult to envision now, the COVID-19 crisis shall too pass. And, if history does indeed rhyme, in its wake American ingenuity and determination will likely push our economy and financial markets yet higher – although the recovery may be long and uneven. As an investor, your appetite for risk may again increase, too. But for the portion of your portfolio that remains in cash, you should remain as protected and earn as much as possible.

Why Financial Advisors Choose MaxMyInterest to Help Clients with Held-Away Cash

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

When Max launched in 2014 as a way to help individual investors keep cash safe while earning higher yield, few paid much attention. Due to the Fed’s many rate cuts during the financial crisis, people had become accustomed to the idea that cash was a zero-return asset class, and few gave it much thought.

Fast forward to 2020 and everyone seems to be focused on cash and how to earn more. Some of the most influential journalists have picked up the cause, including Jason Zweig at The Wall Street Journal and Jim Cramer on Mad Money, urging clients not to ignore what they could be earning on cash.

Everyone seems to be getting in on the game now, trying to convince you to move your funds to a robo advisor or brokerage firm. But not all of these solutions are the same, and you should always be sure to read the fine print.

Industry experts Bob Veres and Joel Bruckenstein, who publish an annual report on financial advisor technology called the T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey, note that the most popular solution among independent financial advisors for helping clients manage the cash they hold outside of the brokerage account is a solution called MaxMyInterest, or “Max” for short.


Why Max is a smart choice for a client’s held-away cash

There are good reasons why Max has become so popular with financial advisors. Max was built out of the simple desire to help people, so a lot of care was put into designing a service that delivers the best yields to clients while being free from any conflicts of interest.

Max works with financial advisors from all types of advisory firms, from independent RIAs to hybrid firms managing trillions of dollars of client assets. Max isn’t a broker or custodian; it simply offers software that acts much like an air traffic controller for cash, helping individuals earn more on cash that they hold in their own bank accounts in a very simple and transparent way.

Notably, Max doesn’t cross-sell other products or sell data. There is no ulterior motive. The company was founded to help people better manage their cash, bringing greater efficiency and transparency to a market that, up until this point, has been opaque and inefficient to the detriment of depositors.

Max includes smart features, such as a patented optimization process that helps ensure a client’s funds are earning the most they can, even as banks change their rates. Intelligent Fund Transfers automatically move funds with one click. And Consolidated Tax Reporting makes tax time as easy as forwarding an email to your accountant.


Why Max appeals to so many clients

Max is simple and easy-to-understand. With Max, funds always remain in clients’ own FDIC-insured bank accounts, held directly in their own names. As a result, clients retain full and same-day access to funds, and can call any bank directly to check on their money, or view all balances through a dashboard on any computer or mobile device. 

But Max is more than just a series of bank accounts – it’s a completely digital user experience where clients can open new accounts in 60 seconds without having to visit a bank’s website, create new usernames and passwords, or deal with trial deposits. The patented Max Common Application is fast and simple, and advisors can even pre-fill the application form for clients with just a few clicks.

Max also delivers preferred rates, higher than those available to the general public, and has arranged other preferred terms, such as higher daily ACH limits and no minimum balance requirements.

Whether used for its built-in cash sweep or used with a set amount of cash, Max is a flexible solution to help a variety of client needs, including:

  • Higher yields and broader FDIC-insurance for those with higher balances of cash
  • As a helpful tool to establish or grow an emergency fund
  • As a way for retirees and those drawing an income to earn more on idle cash


Why Max is the #1 choice for advisors

Since 2015, Max has served the needs of independent financial advisors and continues to innovate to meet the needs of advisors, soliciting advisor feedback at every turn.

Max also offers integrations with leading reporting platforms, including a recently announced integration with Orion

Financial advisors can learn more by visiting MaxForAdvisors.com or by emailing advisors@maxmyinterest.com. Clients can get started earning more right away at MaxMyInterest.com and may choose to link their advisors during enrollment.