Article | Harvard Business Review | March 2012

How to Make Finance Work

by Robin Greenwood and David S. Scharfstein

Abstract

Once a sleepy old boys' club, the U.S. financial sector is now a dynamic and growing business that attracts the best and the brightest. It is tempting to declare the industry a roaring success. But its purpose is to serve the needs of U.S. households and firms, and by this standard its performance has been mixed. The sector's growth has been beneficial for U.S. corporations, which enjoy ready access to the deepest capital markets in the world. Venture capital, for example, and the public equity markets that support it, has channeled money to innovative ideas that have transformed industries and generated new ones. The rest of the economy, however, has not been well served by the financial sector's boom. First, the shift from deposit-based banking to a market-based "shadow banking" system, without adequate regulatory adjustments, has left the financial system vulnerable to crisis. Second, trillions of dollars have been steered into residential real estate and away from more productive investments. Third, the cost of professional investment management is too high, which drains talent from other industries. The financial sector could promote the health and competitiveness of the U.S. economy by increasing capital and liquidity requirements, reorienting the discussion around housing finance reform from keeping mortgage credit cheap to ensuring financial stability, and instituting measures that compel asset managers to compete on the true value of the services they provide.

Keywords: Business Ventures; Value; Competitive Advantage; Investment; Performance Evaluation; Household Characteristics; Financial Crisis; Finance; Financial Services Industry; United States;

Citation:

Greenwood, Robin, and David S. Scharfstein. "How to Make Finance Work." Harvard Business Review 90, no. 3 (March 2012).