What Are Non-Banking Financial Companies?

Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are financial institutions that offer various banking services but do not have a banking license. Generally, these institutions are not allowed to take traditional demand deposits—readily available funds, such as those in checking or savings accounts—from the public. This limitation keeps them outside the scope of conventional oversight from federal and state financial regulators.

NBFCs can offer banking services such as loans and credit facilities, currency exchange, retirement planning, money markets, underwriting, and merger activities.

Key Takeaways

  • Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are entities or institutions that provide certain bank-like and financial services but do not hold a banking license.
  • NBFCs are not subject to the banking regulations and oversight by federal and state authorities adhered to by traditional banks.
  • Investment banks, mortgage lenders, money market funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and P2P lenders are all examples of NBFCs.
  • Since the Great Recession, NBFCs have proliferated in number and type, playing a key role in meeting the credit demand unmet by traditional banks.
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Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC)

Understanding NBFCs

NBFCs are officially classified under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Act describes them as companies "predominantly engaged in a financial activity" when more than 85% of their consolidated annual gross revenues or consolidated assets are financial in nature.

This classification technically encompasses a wide range of companies offering bank-like financing and investing services. Examples of NBFCs include insurance companies, money market funds, asset managers, hedge funds, private equity firms, mobile payment systems, micro-lenders, and peer-to-peer lenders.

Shadow Banks and Meltdowns

However, NBFCs had existed long before the Act. In 2007, they were given the moniker “shadow banks” by economist Paul McCulley, at the time the managing director of Pacific Investment Management Company LLC (PIMCO), to describe the expanding matrix of institutions contributing to the then-current easy-money lending environment—which in turn led to the subprime mortgage meltdown and the subsequent 2008 financial crisis.

Although the term sounds somewhat sinister, many well-known brokerages and investment firms were engaging in a shadow-banking activity. Investment bankers Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were two of the more famed NBFCs at the center of the meltdown.

As a result of the ensuing financial crisis, traditional banks found themselves under closer regulatory scrutiny, which led to a prolonged contraction in their lending activities. As the authorities tightened up on the banks, the banks, in turn, tightened up on loan or credit applicants. The more stringent requirements gave rise to more people needing other funding sources—and hence, the growth of non-bank institutions that were able to operate outside the constraints of banking regulations.

In short, in the decade following the financial crisis of 2007-08, NBFCs have proliferated in large numbers and varying types, playing a key role in meeting the credit demand unmet by traditional banks.

NBFC Controversy

Advocates of NBFCs argue they these institutions play an important role in meeting the rising demand for credit, loans, and other financial services. Customers include both businesses and individuals—especially those who might have trouble qualifying under the more stringent standards set by traditional banks.

Not only do NBFCs provide alternate sources, proponents say, they also offer more efficient ones. NBFCs cut out the middleman—as banks often are—to let clients deal with them directly, lowering costs, fees, and rates, in a process called disintermediation. Providing financing and credit is important to keep the money supply liquid and the economy humming.

Pros

  • Alternate source of funding, credit

  • Direct contact with clients, eliminating intermediaries

  • High yields for investors

  • Liquidity for the finance system

Cons

  • Non-regulated, not subject to oversight

  • Non-transparent operations

  • Systemic risk to finance system, economy

Even so, critics are troubled by NBFCs' lack of accountability to regulators and their ability to operate outside the customary banking rules and regulations. In some cases, they may face oversight by other authorities—the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if they're public companies, or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) if they're brokerages. However, in other cases, they may be able to operate with a lack of transparency.

All of this could put an increasing strain on the financial system. NBFCs were at the epicenter of the 2008 financial crisis that led to the Great Recession. Critics cite that, after all, they have only increased in numbers since then.

Real-World Example of NBFCs

Entities ranging from mortgage provider Quicken Loans to financial services firm Fidelity Investments qualify as NBFCs. However, the fastest-growing segment of the non-bank lending sector has been in peer-to-peer (P2P) lending.

The growth of P2P lending has been facilitated by the power of social networking, which brings like-minded people from all over the world together. P2P lending websites, such as LendingClub Corp.(LC), StreetShares, and Prosper, are designed to connect prospective borrowers with investors willing to invest their money in loans that can generate high yields.

P2P borrowers tend to be individuals who could not otherwise qualify for a traditional bank loan or who prefer to do business with non-banks. Investors have the opportunity to build a diversified portfolio of loans by investing small sums across a range of borrowers.

Although P2P lending only represents a small fraction of the total loans issued in the United States, a report from Transparency Market Research suggests that:

The opportunity in the global peer-to-peer market will be worth US$897.85 billion by the year 2024—up from $26.16 billion in 2015. The market is anticipated to rise at a whopping Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 48.2% between 2016 and 2024.