TO A MATHEMATICIAN, a transformation is what happens when a geometric object is shifted in space, resized, reflected or rotated. Bankers, too, are in the business of transformation, but it is money they move, and not just through space but through time. They take short-term deposits from savers and give them out to borrowers for longer terms; pool assets to reduce risk and sell them on to investors; and—most mysteriously to outsiders—turn the credit they extend into assets that can be lent out again.
All this keeps the economy ticking. But ordinary people are sometimes neglected. The high-street banks’ networks of branches and ATMs, and the government guarantees that back the money in their accounts, have kept customers coming anyway. In many countries, including Britain, banks concentrate a lot of their effort on their big corporate borrowers, says Kevin Travis of Novantas. “It’s revealing that leading high-street banks are generally described as the ‘big lenders’.”