The City ofLondon as a Financial Center, its Main Institutions.
There has been a long tradition in Britain of directing the economy through the great financial institutions together known as "the City", which until 1997 were located in the "Square Mile" of the City of London. This remains broadly the case today, though the markets for financial and related services have grown and diversified greatly.
Banks, insurance companies, the Stock Exchange, money markets, commodity shipping and freight markets and other kinds of financial institutions are concentrated in the solemn buildings of the City and beyond its borders. The City of London is the largest financial center in Europe. London is also the world's largest international insurance market and has the biggest foreign exchange market.
Britain's financial service industry gives about 6.5 % of its gross domestic products (GDP) and contributes some 35 thousand million pounds a year. The largest contributors are banks, insurance, institutions pension funds, and securities dealers. To help Britain's financial services to respond to the competition and at the same time to protect the public investment, the Government introduced 3 pieces of legislation to supervise financing the industry: the Financial Services Act (1986), the Building Societies Act (1986) and the Banking Act (1987). Under these acts investment businesses need to be authorized and they have to obey rules set in the legislation. The main responsibility to supervise were the Bank of England, the Building Societies Commission, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry. The Serious Fraud office was set up to investigate and prosecute significant and complex fraud.
The Bank of England.
The Bank of England was established in 1684 by Act of Parliament and Royal Charter as a corporate body. Its entire capital stock was acquired by the Government under the Bank of England Act in 1946. It is the heart of the City of London and Britain's central bank. The Bank's main functions are to execute monetary policy, to act as banker to the Government, to issue banknote and to provide central Banking facilities
for the banking system that is the Bank is responsible for the financial system as a whole; it is "lender of last resort". The Bank's main objective is to support the Government in achieving low inflation. Unlike some other central banks the Bank can not act independently of the Government. Decisions on changes in the interest rates are taken by the Chancellor of Exchequer. The Bank's role is to advise the Chancellor and to carry out his decisions. The 1999 (November) interest rate was 5.5%.
As banker to the Government the Bank of England is responsible for managing the National Debt. It has the sole right in England and Wales to issue banknote. The note issue is no longer backed by gold but the Government and other securities. The Scottish and Northern Ireland Banks have limited rights to issue notes and those must be fully covered by holdings of the Bank of England notes. Coins can be provided by the Royal Mint.
The Bank of England can influence money market conditions through discount houses. If on any day there is a shortage of cash in Banking system, the bank relieves the shortage either by buying bills from the discount houses or lending directly to them.
The Bank of England is responsible for supervision of the main wholesale markets in London for money, foreign exchange or gold bullion.
On behalf of the Treasury the Bank manages the Exchange Equalization Account (EEA). Using the resources of EEA the Bank may intervene in the foreign exchange markets to check undue fluctuations in the exchange rate of sterling.
The Discount Houses are unique to the City of London (and to Britain as a country). They occupy the central position in the British monetary system. They act as intermediaries between the Bank of England and the rest of the banking sector promoting an orderly flow of funds between the Government and the banks. In return for acting as intermediaries the discount houses have privileged daily access to the Bank of England as "lender of last resort".
Banks in Britain developed from the London gold miths of the 17th century. By the 1920s and the 1930s there were five large clearing banks with a network across the country. In February 1996 there were 539 institutions authorized under the Banking. Act of 1987. In British banking retail banks should be described as dominant.
Retail banks primarily serve personal customers and small to medium-sized businesses. They operate through more than 11.350 branchers offering cash deposits withdrawl facilities and systems for transferring funds. They provide current accounts, deposit accounts various types of loan arrangements and a growing range of financial services.
The main banks in England and Wales are Barklays, Lloyds, Midland, National Westminter and the TSB group. The major Scottish banks are the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale and Royal Bank of Scotland.
With a relaxation of restrictions on competition among financial institutions major banks have diversified the services they provide. They have lent more money for house purchases, have more interests in leasing and factoring companies, merchant banks, securities dealers, insurance and trust companies. They provide low facilities to industrial companies ands now support a loan guarantee scheme under which 70% of the value of loans to small companies is guaranteed by the Government.
Plastic card technology has revolutionized cash transfer and payments systems. There are around ninety two million plastic cards in circulation in Britain. There are different types of cards but they often combine functions. Cards can be used overseas too to obtain cash from bank ATM ( Automated Teller Machines). Cash machine cards have greatly improved customers' access to cash. All retail banks and building societies participate in nation wide networks of ATMs. About two thirds of cash now is obtained through Britain's twenty one thousand ATMs. .A lot of them are located different places at supermarkets, for instance.
Many banks offer electronic payment of cheques, telephone banking, under which customers use a telephone to obtain account information, make transfers or pay bills. Other innovations include computer-based banking (through