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101 Concepts for the Level I Exam

Concept 69: Types of Financial Intermediaries


Financial intermediaries facilitate transaction between buyers and sellers allowing them to exchange asset, capital and risk. The different types are:

  1. Brokers, Exchanges, and Alternative Trading Systems:
  • Brokers: find counterparties for transactions (other entities willing to take the opposing side in a transaction) and do not indulge in trade with their clients directly.
  • Block brokers: provide similar services as brokers, except that their clients have large trade orders that might potentially impact the security prices if the trade is executed without proper care.
  • Investment banks: provide advice for corporate actions like mergers & acquisitions and help firms raise capital by issuing securities such as common stock, bonds, preferred shares etc.
  • Exchanges: provide places where traders can meet. They regulate traders’ actions to ensure smooth execution of the trades.
  • Alternative trading systems (ATS): serve the same trading function as exchanges but have no regulatory oversight. ATS where client orders are not revealed are also called dark pools.
  • Dealers: trade directly with their clients by taking the opposite side of their trades. They provide liquidity by buying or selling from their own inventory and earn profits on the bid-ask spreads.
  1. Securitizers:
  • They pool together large amounts of securities or assets. A special purpose entity (SPE) or special purpose vehicle (SPV) buys these assets and interests in this entity are sold off to investors.
  • Assets that are often securitized include mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit card receivables and bank loans.
  • Investors then earn returns from the cash flows of the underlying assets.
  • Pooling of resources offers economies of scale, creates liquidity for these securities and reduces the total risk for these assets.
  1. Depository institutions: include commercial banks, savings and loan banks, credit unions and similar institutions that raise funds from depositors and other investors and lend it to borrowers.
  2. Insurance companies:
  • They help entities offset risks by issuing insurance contracts that payout if a specified event occurs.
  • The insured entity in turn pays an insurance premium for availing this benefit.
  • The event risk is spread over large entities such that the total insurance premium earned is more than the insurance payout.
  • Three key risks inherent in insurance system:
    • Moral hazard: Insured entity is likely to take more risks.
    • Adverse selection: Entities that are at most risk, are likely to buy the assets.
    • Fraud: Entities claiming factitious losses or purposely indulging in damaging behavior.
  1. Clearinghouses: act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers, thereby lowering the counterparty risk and increasing the reliability of the trades.
  2. Depositories or custodians: hold securities for their clients. This helps prevent loss of securities through fraud, oversight or natural disasters.
  3. Arbitrageurs: indulge in buying and selling of mispriced securities and earn a riskless profit in the process. They provide added liquidity to the market by removing any price inefficiencies.