Chapter 1Financial Institutions as Information Processors

Financial Institutions' RAISON D'ÊTRE

Economic literature includes a rich debate on why firms exist as they do—the main question being why firm boundaries are defined in the ways that we observe. Certain types of activities that could remain in-house are routinely outsourced, while many activities with the potential to be outsourced remain internal to the firm. Mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures do exhibit certain patterns with respect to how firms believe their own boundaries ought to be defined, but these patterns are by no means exhaustive nor are their outcomes obviously probative. Some corporate restructurings are metamorphic and highlight the question of what makes a financial institution a financial institution. For example, in 1987 Greyhound Corp., a bus line company since 1929, spun off its bus line operating units so that it could “focus on its core business of financial services.” To even think about which firms should be defined as belonging to the financial services sector we need to have some practical mechanism or criteria for inclusion. Theoretically we could simply enumerate a comprehensive list of financial services and products, and include firms that engage in this set of activities. With a boundary so constructed, we would have an identified set of institutions to analyze. But does that boundary really exist or is it helpful even as an abstraction? Retail sales finance is one of the largest ...

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