The Major Central Banks

What Is a Central Bank?

Every nation or region has a central body that is responsible to oversee its economic and monetary policies and to ensure the financial system remains stable. This body is called the central bank. Unlike commercial and investment banks, these institutions aren't market-based and they are not competitive.

Many central banks are concerned with inflation, which is the movement of prices for goods and services. They keep inflation in line with interest rates.

For instance, a central bank will increase interest rates to slow growth when inflation exceeds its target. Conversely, it lowers interest rates to spur growth when inflation drops below the bank's target.

The majority of the world's central banks are independent yet answer to their federal governments and, therefore, the general population. This article looks at several of the world's most influential central banks, their mandates, and their structures.

Key Takeaways

  • Central banks are responsible for economic and monetary policy as well as the soundness of the financial system.
  • These institutions set interest rates and control the money supply of a country.
  • The U.S. Federal Reserve is one of the most powerful central banks in the world.
  • The European Central Bank oversees the policies of the eurozone.
  • Other notable central banks include the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the Swiss National Bank, the Bank of Canada, and the Reserve Banks of Australia and New Zealand.

U.S. Federal Reserve System (Fed)

The Federal Reserve, commonly referred to as the Fed, is the central bank of the United States. It is probably the most influential central bank in the world. With the U.S. dollar used for approximately 90% of all of the world's currency transactions, the Fed's sway has a sweeping effect on the valuation of many currencies.

The Fed is responsible for the effective operation of the U.S. economy while keeping the best interests of the public in mind. In accordance with its five key functions, the Fed:

  • promotes monetary policy
  • maintains financial stability
  • preserves the soundness of individual financial institutions
  • promotes the safety of payment and settlement systems
  • oversees consumer protection.

The Fed is made up of three distinct groups:

  • The Board of Governors: This group works independently of the U.S. government but reports directly to Congress (which oversees the Federal Reserve). The seven governors or board members are nominated by the U.S. president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The board is responsible for maintaining the Fed's goals. Each board member serves on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).
  • The Federal Reserve Banks: This group is made up of 12 regional banks that oversee various parts of the country. They are located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. The banks are supervised by the Fed's board.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee: The FOMC and is made up of the board members plus the 12 presidents of the reserve banks. The chair of the FOMC is the head of the Federal Reserve Board. The FOMC meets eight times a year, when it reviews economic conditions, the stability of the financial system, and monetary policy.

European Central Bank (ECB)

The European Central Bank (ECB) was established in 1999. The governing council of the ECB decides on changes to monetary policy. The council consists of six members of the executive board of the ECB, plus the governors of all the national central banks from the 19 eurozone countries.

As a central bank, the ECB does not like surprises. Whenever it plans to change interest rates, it generally gives the market ample notice by warning of an impending move through comments to the press.

The bank's mandate is to keep prices stable and ensure that growth is sustainable. Unlike the Fed, the ECB strives to maintain the annual growth in consumer prices below 2%. As an export-dependent economy, the ECB also has a vested interest in preventing excess strength in its currency because this poses a risk to its export market.

The ECB's council meets bi-weekly. Policy decisions are generally made at meetings where there is an accompanying press conference. These meetings happen 11 times a year.

Bank of England (BOE)

The Bank of England (BOE) is publicly-owned, which means it reports to the British people through its parliament. Founded in 1694, it is often touted as one of the world's most effective central banks.

Its mission is to maintain the stability of England's monetary and financial systems. To accomplish this, the central bank has an inflation target of 2%. If prices surpass that level, the central bank will look to curb inflation. A level far below 2% will prompt the central bank to take measures to boost inflation.

The BOE also ensures:

  • the soundness of the nation's financial institutions
  • the security of its currency
  • a financial system that's free from unnecessary risk

The bank's monetary policy committee has nine members. They include a governor, three deputy governors, a chief economist, and four outside experts. The committee meets eight times a year to announce findings and policy.

Bank of Japan (BOJ)

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) began operating in 1882. Its mission is to maintain price stability and to ensure the stability of the financial system. This makes inflation the central bank's top focus. As Japan is very dependent on exports, the BOJ has an even more active interest than the ECB does in preventing an excessively strong currency.

The bank's monetary policy committee consists of the governor, two deputy governors, and six other members. The central bank has been known to enter the open market to artificially weaken its currency by selling it against U.S. dollars and euros. The BOJ is also extremely vocal when it is concerned about excess currency volatility and strength. It meets eight times a year.

Swiss National Bank (SNB)

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is an independent bank that is responsible for its nation's monetary policy. Its main goal is to maintain the stability of prices while overseeing economic conditions in the country. There are two different offices—one in Berne and the other in Zurich.

Like Japan and the eurozone, Switzerland is very dependent on exports. This means that the SNB does not have an interest in seeing its currency become too strong. Therefore, its general bias is to be more conservative with rate hikes.

The bank has a three-person committee that makes decisions on interest rates. Unlike most other central banks, the SNB determines an interest rate band rather than a specific target rate. The bank's committee meets quarterly to ensure the bank is meeting its mandate

Central banks answer to and act as lenders to their nations' governments.

Bank of Canada (BOC)

Canada's central bank is called the Bank of Canada (BOC). Its mandate is to ensure stability in Canada's economy and financial system. It accomplishes this by:

  • enacting monetary policy
  • overseeing the financial system
  • maintaining the value and supply of Canada's currency
  • managing public debt

The central bank has an inflation target of 1% to 3% with the aim of keeping it near 2%. It has done a good job of keeping inflation within that range since 1998.

Monetary policy decisions within the BOC are made by a consensus vote in the governing council, which consists of the bank's governor, the senior deputy governor, and four deputy governors. The executive council, which is made up of the governing council and the chief operating officer (COO), drafts the bank's strategic direction.

The Bank of Canada's governing council meets eight times a year.

Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)

The Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) functions are set out by the country's Reserve Bank Act 1959. The bank's mandate is to ensure a stable currency, full employment, and the economic prosperity and welfare of the people of Australia.

The RBA's monetary policy committee consists of the central bank governor, the deputy governor, the secretary to the treasurer, and six independent members. These individuals are appointed by the federal government.

The central bank has an inflation target of 2% to 3% per year. The committee meets 11 times a year, usually on the first Tuesday of each month, except in January.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ)

New Zealand's economy and monetary policy are overseen by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ). The bank is also responsible for sustainable levels of employment and a sound financial system.

The RBNZ has had an inflation target range of 1% to 3% in place since 2000. Yet, it focuses on a target of 1.5% in the medium term, which it announced at the end of 2018. Failure to meet this mid-term target could result in the dismissal of the RBNZ's governor.

Unlike other central banks, the decision-making power on monetary policy ultimately rests with the central bank governor. The bank's committee meets eight times a year.

Who Is the Chair of the Fed?

Jerome Powell is the chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. As such, he leads the Fed. He's currently serving his second four-year term.

Is the Fed Independent From the U.S. Government?

The Fed is an independent government agency. However, it is accountable to the public and to the nation's Congress. It receives no funds from the U.S. budget. Elected officials and other members of the government cannot serve on the Board of Governors.

What's the Oldest Central Bank in the World?

Central banks have been around a long time. For instance, the Bank of England was established in 1694. However, Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, is the oldest central bank. It was founded in 1668.

The Bottom Line

The list above presents some of the most powerful central banks in the world. Although they may have different targets, structures, and meeting timelines, their mandates are generally the same. That is, to ensure the economic prosperity of their nations, to oversee their financial systems, and to control their currencies. These banks often work together to ensure that the global economy remains in check.

Article Sources
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  2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Structure of the Federal Reserve System."

  3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Structure of the Federal Reserve System."

  4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Federal Reserve Banks."

  5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board. "Federal Open Market Committee."

  6. European Central Bank. "Governing Council."

  7. European Central Bank. "Why Are Stable Prices Important?"

  8. European Central Bank. "Press Conferences."

  9. Bank of England. "Governance and funding."

  10. Bank of England. "Inflation and the 2% Target."

  11. Bank of England. "About Us."

  12. Bank of England. "Monetary Policy Committee."

  13. Bank of England. "Monetary Policy."

  14. Bank of Japan. "History."

  15. Bank of Japan. "About the Bank."

  16. Bank of Japan. "Monetary Policy."

  17. Swiss National Bank. "The SNB."

  18. Swiss National Bank. "Governing Board."

  19. Swiss National Bank. "Monetary Policy."

  20. Bank of Canada. "About the Bank."

  21. Bank of Canada. "Inflation."

  22. Bank of Canada. "Monetary Policy."

  23. Reserve Bank of Australia. "About the RBA."

  24. Reserve Bank of Australia. "Reserve Bank Board."

  25. Reserve Bank of Australia. "Inflation Target."

  26. Reserve Bank of New Zealand. "What we do - the Bank and its functions."

  27. Reserve Bank of New Zealand. "Inflation."

  28. Reserve Bank of New Zealand. "Inflation Targeting in New Zealand: An Experience in Evolution."

  29. Reserve Bank of New Zealand. "Monetary Policy Accountability and Monitoring."

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