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.

Cash is King: How to Profit From Rising Rates

While Max members have always earned much more on cash than the typical American depositor, as interest rates rise, the benefits of using Max are increasing even further. Since 2014, the incremental yield, or alpha, that Max has generated for its members has increased from 0.76% to 1.23%.

According to Bankrate.com, the national average interest rate earned on savings accounts is 0.09%. Max members, however, are earning dramatically more — 1.42% on balances up to $250,000, and an average 1.32% on larger balances up to $1,000,000.

Why does earning more on cash matter? Because interest compounds over time, meaning that the gap between those who manage their cash wisely and those who don’t widens as years go by.  Since all FDIC-insured savings accounts carry a government guarantee and are essentially risk-free, focusing on the banks that can deliver the highest yield makes sense. Leaving your money in a brick-and-mortar savings account that pays the national average — or worse — means you are missing out on the opportunity to earn an additional 1.23%, on average, without taking any additional risk with your money. In fact, because of Max’s feature that helps spread cash across multiple banks to maximize FDIC insurance coverage, many Max members are earning higher yield while taking less risk.

While online banks have gradually raised rates over the past several months, brick-and-mortar banks have yet to do so in a significant fashion. Online banks are able to offer higher interest rates to savings-account holders because they don’t have physical branches to maintain. This means that if you don’t keep your cash in online banks, you likely aren’t keeping pace with rising rates.

For financial advisors, the ability to help clients earn more on their held-away cash — typically cash that advisors don’t see — is a major reason why many are recommending Max to their clients. As a fiduciary, charged with looking out for their clients’ best interest, many advisors feel it is imperative to offer Max to their clients. Incremental yield on cash is, after all, the same as incremental yield anywhere else in a client’s portfolio — but in the case of FDIC-insured cash, it comes without risk.

To learn more about how Max can help you or your clients earn more on cash, visit MaxMyInterest.com or MaxForAdvisors.com.

Start Your Engines: Ultra-Fast Account Opening and Linking with Max

Account opening and linking is racecar-fast.

Get your stopwatch: the race to intelligent cash management just accelerated.

Max and UFB Direct, an online-banking brand of BofI Federal Bank, have just launched the industry’s fastest account-opening and linking process. It now takes just minutes to open a new Max-linked UFB Direct online savings account.

How is this possible? In partnership with BofI, Max developed new technology that allows the process to go much faster than the usual procedures for opening an account at an online bank.

What this means for Max members: it’s now possible to visit the Max website, apply for a new UFB Direct account, link it to Max, and start optimizing your cash all within minutes.

Financial advisors who use Max can also help their clients open UFB Direct accounts right on the Max site. The new, streamlined linking process means it’s faster than ever to start earning more on cash, FDIC-insured.

We’ve heard from financial advisors that they would like to add clients to the Max platform as quickly and with as little friction as possible. That’s why we made it possible to pre-onboard clients with one click from advisors’ CRM systems. Now, with rapid account opening and linking, clients can get a savings account set up quickly and can start their first optimization right away.

Why does speed matter? Because every moment counts — not just because time is valuable, but also because the power of cash optimization can start working sooner.

Learn more about Max’s intelligent cash management services for individuals, financial advisors, and businesses, nonprofits, and institutions, or contact us with questions: member.services@maxmyinterest.com.

 

Why Partnerships Are The Right Path for Banks and FinTech

Max members can now use our streamlined account-opening process to open a UFB Direct account in less than two minutes without trial deposits.

This will be the year that banks and fintech companies work together to solve customers’ problems in new ways, industry-watchers predict.

“In 2017, there will be a widening of the gulf between banks that are building meaningful partnerships with FinTech firms and those that think that they are because they have a couple of tech vendors and a procurement department,” JP Nicols, managing director of Fintech Forge and chairman of Next Money U.S, told bank innovation consultant Jim Marous. Financial-industry conferences, including the recent LendIt conference in New York City, have echoed with the same sentiment over the past few months: the banks that successfully tie up with fintech companies will pull ahead of those who don’t.

At Max, we’re proud to be part of this trend. Today, we announced a partnership with BofI Federal Bank, one of the pioneers of online banking, to add their UFB Direct brand to the Max platform.

Through a direct API integration and our patent-pending approach to account opening and linking, we’ve made it possible for clients to open new online savings accounts in less than two minutes, without the need for clients to leave the Max website or complete a cumbersome trial-deposit verification process. UFB Direct is also offering a preferred rate to Max members, who tend to hold balances that are many times larger than typical online bank customers.

Why would a bank partner with Max? Because this integration allows BofI to streamline customer acquisition without the need to spend money on advertising or referral fees, which in turn means they can operate more efficiently than their peers while delivering even higher yields to depositors. UFB Direct will get new customers — Max members — who are savvy about maintaining full FDIC insurance coverage and earning more interest on their cash, and who understand the benefits of online banking.

With the UFB partnership, all Max members will have the ability to link an additional online bank to their Max accounts, increasing the amount of FDIC coverage they can receive.

We believe this partnership represents a true win-win-win opportunity for BofI, for Max, and for our members — and is illustrative of the type of bank-FinTech partnership of which we expect to see more in 2017.

Learn more about Max and how it helps individuals earn more on their cash, FDIC-insured at MaxMyInterest.com.

Or find out how Max helps financial advisors and their clients to optimize cash by visiting MaxForAdvisors.com.

Banks seeking more information about the potential to partner with Max can contact us at info@maxmyinterest.com.

 

For Advisors, New Technology Brings More Cash Into View

Max brings more cash into view.

Max brings more cash into view.

After eight years of near-zero yields, clients are eager to earn higher returns. Financial advisors want to deliver greater returns without taking on more risk. Advisors are using a novel technology, called Max, to achieve both of these goals, helping clients earn more while growing assets under management.

Which asset class can generate an incremental 0.90% of return, without taking on risk or sacrificing liquidity? The answer lies in a forgotten corner of client portfolios: cash. Most investors are earning little to no interest on their cash held in their bank or brokerage accounts. Since yields have been so low for so long, most financial advisors don’t spend much time thinking about cash.  Instead they focus on higher-return asset classes like stocks, fixed income, or alternative investments.

But how much clients earn on cash can make a significant difference to the overall performance of their portfolios. Here’s the math: the average high-net-worth investor holds 23.7% of his or her net worth in cash, according to the 2015 CapGemini/RBC Wealth Report. Earning an extra 0.90% on that cash means the portfolio as a whole will earn 0.21% more. Because it’s cash in the bank — FDIC-insured — this incremental return is risk-free.

Max is an intelligent cash management service that automatically allocates clients’ cash between their existing checking or brokerage account and a portfolio of higher-yielding FDIC-insured savings accounts at the nation’s leading online banks. Most Max clients are earning more than 1.00%. By contrast, many bank or brokerage accounts pay only 0.01% or 0.02%.

How does Max help clients earn more on cash? By capitalizing on the efficiency of online banks. These institutions don’t have branches, and their lower cost structure allows them to pass along more yield to clients who deposit cash with them.

For financial advisors, offering Max to clients has the effect of bringing held-away cash into view. Over time, clients migrate cash towards Max, where they can grant their financial advisor read-only access to their balances through the Max Advisor Dashboard (a free service for financial advisors.) With the ability to see the cash that clients are holding, advisors can spark a new conversation about portfolio allocation, and often nudge some of this cash into higher-beta asset classes.

Max is not a bank, nor does it provide financial advice.  Max is a technology-driven tool that automatically optimizes a client’s cash balances among accounts at online banks held in the client’s own name. Clients retain direct access to their funds, maintain their relationship with their primary checking-account bank, and can continue to use all bank services like notaries and tellers.

Learn more about the Max Advisor Dashboard and how to invite clients to Max by visiting MaxForAdvisors.com. Or contact advisors@maxmyinterest.com with questions.