The Efficiency of Private E-Money-Like Systems: The U.S. Experience with National Bank Notes
Warren E. Weber
CenFIS Working Paper 15-02
Beginning in 1864, in the United States notes of national banks were the predominant medium of exchange. Each national bank issued its own notes. E-money shares many of the characteristics of these bank notes. This paper describes some lessons relevant to e money from the U.S. experience with national bank notes. It examines historical evidence on how well the bank notes—a privately issued currency system with multiple issuers—functioned with respect to ease of transacting, counterfeiting, safety, overissuance, and par exchange (a uniform currency). It finds that bank notes made transacting easier and were not subject to overissuance. National bank notes were perfectly safe because they were insured by the federal government. Further, national bank notes were a uniform currency. Notes of different banks traded at par with each other and with greenbacks. This paper describes the mechanism that was put in place to achieve uniformity. The U.S. experience with national bank notes suggests that a privately issued e-money system can operate efficiently but will require government intervention, regulation, and supervision to minimize counterfeiting, promote safety, and provide the mechanism necessary for different media of exchange to exchange at par with each other.
JEL classification: E41, E42, E58
Key words: Bank notes, E-money, financial services