I t is easy to understand how money gets destroyed in a traditional bank run. Picture the men in top hats yelling at clerks in “Mary Poppins”. The crowds want their cash and bank tellers are trying to provide it. But when customers flee, staff cannot satisfy all comers before the institution topples. The remaining debts (which, for banks, include deposits) are wiped out.
This is not what happens in the digital age. The depositors fleeing Silicon Valley Bank (svb) did not ask for notes and coins. They wanted their balances wired elsewhere. Nor were deposits written off when the bank went under. Instead, regulators promised to make svb’s clients whole. Although the failure of the institution was bad news for shareholders, it should not have reduced the aggregate amount of deposits in the banking system.
The odd thing is that deposits in American banks are nevertheless falling. Over the past year those in commercial banks have sunk by half a trillion dollars, a fall of nearly 3%. This makes the financial system more fragile, since banks must shrink to repay their deposits. Where is the money going?