How has the 21st century revolutionized financing methods?

How has the 21st century revolutionized financing methods?

In this article, Raphaël ROERO DE CORTANZE (ESSEC Business School, Master in Management, 2018-2022) explains how the 21st century revolutionized financing methods.

In The Crisis in Keynesian Economics (1974), the British economist John HICKS described how the world economy shifted during the 20th century from the autoeconomy model to the overdrafteconomy model. An autoeconomy is an “equity” economy, dominated by self-financing and capital market financing. An overdrafteconomy is a “debt” economy, where financing is provided through debt by an intermediary (a bank or credit institution).

What were the reasons which led to this shift from autoeconomy to overdrafteconomy? Why do the evolution of markets and investment regulations during the second half of the 20th century question the typology described by John Hicks in 1974?

From the Industrial Revolution to the 1920s: the development of the autoeconomy model

In the beginning of the 19th century as the first wave of industrialization gained momentum across Europe and North America, the relative peace following the end of Napoleonic wars helped cut public spending. This period brought unparalleled increases in revenue, profit and cash flows, allowing both firms and governments to benefit from tremendous surplus and self-investing capacities. For instance, during the 19th century, the UK was able to reduce dramatically its public debt thanks to unprecedented budget surplus.

Meanwhile, financial markets were gradually asserting themselves as key players in financing the economy. Stock exchanges, which were until then mainly open government bonds, started to allow companies to seek additional financing. Companies started to combine more and more self-financing and capital market financing. The passion for the financial markets also affected the general public. In France in 1911, 45% of the inheritance in the bourgeoisie involved securities. In 1914 there were 2.4 million individual security holders (for a population of 42 million).

Until the end of the Roaring Twenties, the stock market was still very attractive. European governments financed the increase of public debt induced by the First World War through capital market financing. Even though the banking system was also developing in parallel, the financing of the economy remained dominated by financial markets and self-financing.

From the Wall Street Crash of 1929 to the 1970s: the shift towards the overdrafteconomy model

On Monday 28 October 1929 (Black Monday), the greatest sell-off of shares in US history was recorded. The Great Crash quickly spread to Europe, and with it a feeling of mistrust towards financial markets settled in. Following the 1929 crash, the first steps of banking regulation contributed to transitioning from the autoeconomy model to the overdrafteconomy model. Indeed, a separation was introduced between retail and investment banks, in order to reduce the impact of a future financial crisis on real economy (the Glass Steagall Act in 1933 in the US). In France, a deposit insurance scheme was introduced in 1934.

On the one hand, the loss of credibility of financial markets, and on the other hand the revival of banking regulation translated into a shift in financing methods. Numerous countries, such as France and Japan, used bank financing to finance the post World War II reconstruction. In most Western countries (except for the US and UK), companies and governments began preferring bank financing to capital markets financing and went into bank debt (hence the “overdraft” economy – where the economy spends more than it produces) to finance their activities.

Since the 1970s: the development of new financing methods

From the 1970s, two phenomena made financial markets appealing again, by making them more liquid and more accessible:

  • Financial deregulation: end of the stockbrokers’ monopoly, introduction of derivatives, abolition of regulations that hindered the free international movement of capital, etc.
  • Departitioning between national and international markets and between debt and stock markets.

Furthermore, the separation between retail and investment banks was abolished (in 1979 in the UK), allowing the emergence of banking behemoths (Citi Group in 1998, BNP Paribas in 2000). Banks did not lose out on these developments: they gradually established themselves as the central players in this new globalized finance.

Technical and regulatory innovations in the markets and the banking sector created financial globalization. This evolution was accompanied by a boom in the collective management of savings with the emergence of huge institutional investors. For instance, between 1980 and 2009 the amount of assets managed by pension funds was multiplied by 33.

Finally, the second part of the 20th century saw the development of new forms of financing. In 1958, in the US, new laws allowing the creation of investment firms, paved the way to private equity and venture capital, which financed the development of start-ups in Silicon Valley. The 1980s witnessed the emergence of the first Leverage Buy Out.

At beginning of the 21st century, crowdfunding through crowd equity (funding in exchange of a stake in the company) of crowd lending (funding in exchange of interests) added another new form of financing.

Thus, the 20th century witnessed the development of the forms of financing that we know today. The typology devised by John Hicks in 1974 appears now to be obsolete, as the means of financing abound, without one imposing itself as in the overdraft and autoeconomy models. Nevertheless, it allows us to understand how the events of the last century have built the globalized finance we know today.

Key concepts


An overdraft occurs when money is withdrawn from a bank account and the available balance goes below zero. In this situation, the account is said to be “overdrawn”. If there is a prior agreement with the account provider for an overdraft, and the amount overdrawn is within the authorized overdraft limit, then interest is normally charged at the agreed rate. If the negative balance exceeds the agreed terms, then additional fees may be charged and higher interest rates may apply.

Deposit insurance scheme

Deposit insurance or deposit protection is a measure implemented in many countries to protect bank depositors, in full or in part, from losses caused by a bank’s inability to pay its debts when due. Because banking institution failures have the potential to trigger a broad spectrum of harmful events, including economic recessions, policy makers maintain deposit insurance schemes to protect depositors and to give them comfort that their funds are not at risk. In the European Union, the current coverage limit is €100,000.

Useful resources

John Hicks (1974) The Crisis in Keynesian Economics.

Adeline Daumard (1973) Les fortunes françaises au XIXème siècle.

Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, Paul Lagneau-Ymonet, Angelo Riva (2011) Les marchés financiers français : une perspective historique.

André Strauss (1988) Evolution comparée des systèmes de financement : RFA, Royaume-Uni et Japon.

Henri Bourguinat (1992) Finance internationale.

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