The branch system provides greater facilities for the transmission of money. The sending of money from one town to another is greatly facilitated if a branch of the same bank be established in each of those towns, for all the branches grant letters of credit upon each other. Otherwise you have to ask the banker in the town from which the money is sent to give you a bill upon London, which is transmitted by post; or you request him to advise his London agent to pay the money to the London agent of the banker who resides in the town to which the money is remitted. This takes up more time, and is attended with more expense. A facility of transmitting money between two places usually facilitates the trade between those places.
The branch system extends the benefits of banking to small places where independent banks could not be supported. An independent bank must have an independent board of directors, who in most cases will be better paid - the manager must have a higher salary, because he has a heavier responsibility, and a large amount of cash must bo kept unemployed in the till, because there is no neighbouring resource in case of a run. There must be a paid-up capital, upon which good dividends are expected; a large proportion of the funds must be invested in exchequer bills, or other Government securities, at a low interest, in order that the bank may be prepared to meet sudden calls; and the charge for agencies will also be more. On the other hand, a branch has seldom need of a board of directors, one or two being quite sufficient - the manager is not so well paid: there is no necessity for a large sum in the till, because in case of necessity the branch has recourse to the head office, or to the neighbouring branches; nor is a large portion of its funds invested in Government securities that yield but little interest, as the head office takes charge of this, and can manage it at a less proportional expense. Besides, at some branches, the manager attends only on market days, or once or twice a week. The business done on those days would not bear the expense of an independent establishment.
The branch system provides the means of a due distribution of capital. Some banks raise more capital than they can employ, that is, their notes and deposits amount to more than their loans and discounts. Others employ more capital than they raise, that is, their loans and discounts amount to more than their notes and deposits. Banks that have a surplus capital usually send it to London to be employed by the bill-brokers. The banks that want capital must either restrict their business, or send their bills to London to be rediscounted. Now, if two banks, one having too much, and the other too little capital, be situated in the same county, they will have no direct intercourse, and will consequently be of no assistance to each other; but if a district bank be established, and these two banks become branches, then the surplus capital of one branch will be sent to be employed at the other - thus the whole wealth of the district is employed within the district, and the practice of rediscounting bills in London will be proportionately diminished.
The branch system secures a better system of management. The only way to secure good management is to prevent the formation of small banks. When banks are large, the directors are men of more wealth and respectability - they can give large salaries to their officers, and hence can command first-rate talent - there will be a more numerous proprietary; and in a large number there will be always some active spirits who will be watchful of the conduct of the directors and the manager; besides, in a numerous proprietary there is a greater number of persons eligible to be directors, and consequently there is a wider choice. In populous cities, such as London or Manchester, a large bank may be formed without branches; but in smaller places there is no way of forming a large bank but by giving it branches throughout the district. A branch
Dank in a small town will probably be better managed than an independent bank in the same place. The directors and manager of the branch will be appointed by the directors at the head office, assisted by the general manager, who are very competent to judge what qualifications are necessary for these offices, and who would not be biased by local partialities. But the directors of the independent bank would most likely be self-appointed, or chosen by the proprietors, because no others could be obtained, and these directors would appoint some friend of their own to be manager. The manager of the branch, besides the superintendence of the directors, which he has in common with the manager of the independent bank, will be subject to visits from the general manager or the inspector; and he must send weekly statements of his accounts to the head office. The consciousness of responsibility will thus secure a more anxious attention to his duties; and, besides, he will probably be looking forward for promotion to a higher branch as a reward for his successful management. These circumstances seem to insure a higher degree of good management to the branch.
At the same time, it must be admitted that banks with numerous branches require a proportionate paid-up capital, and that the capital be kept in a disposable form; it also requires vigilant and constant inspection, and a rigid system of discipline.
A proportionate paid-up capital is necessary, because, in case of a run, there are a greater number of points of attack: hence the funds must be divided to meet all these possible attacks; for if one branch be overpowered, the whole bank is immediately exposed to suspicion.
Another danger arises from the incompetency or negligence of the managers of branches. Among a number of men, it is not likely that all are clever, and all prudent; and one case of neglect on the part of one manager may, in times of alarm, throw discredit on the whole establishment. Besides, there is sometimes danger even from the zeal of the branch managers. Each manager is naturally anxious to increase the business of his own branch; and he will perhaps find that the most easy way of doing this is to extend his loans and discounts. Hence each manager tries to employ as much capital as he can; and the urgent remonstrances he receives from head-quarters, requiring him to restrict his discounts, are either evaded or delayed. Thus the bank proceeds until some heavy demand for money arises at head-quarters, and it is then found that all the capital of the bank has been absorbed by the branches. These advances cannot be suddenly recalled, and thus the bank is ruined.