Updated: Our Most Recent Perspective on Industry Events from Founder Charles Schwab and CEO Walt Bettinger
Watch Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger on CNBC
Co-Chairman and CEO Walt Bettinger addresses market conditions and Schwab's financial stability on CNBC's The Exchange.
To our clients, employees, and owners:
As someone with an interest in financial markets, you may have seen some of the recent news about the banking sector. If you are like us, you may have also wondered why Schwab has recently been lumped in with concerns regarding regional banks in particular. The fact is we are a different kind of financial firm, which can make us harder to understand. That may help explain many of the misconceptions about us compared to other parts of the financial sector. As such, we want to offer an updated perspective on some of the topics that have come up.
First and foremost, Schwab is a brokerage firm. We exist to help investors and those who serve them. Schwab is the largest public broker-dealer in the U.S. and the most regulated, since we are also regulated by the Federal Reserve. Approximately 95 percent of the $7 trillion clients have entrusted us with is custodied at the broker-dealer and segregated for clients and their benefit. Every client of a U.S. broker-dealer enjoys the same SEC-mandated customer protections. That means these assets are not subject to risk related to banking or credit. Anyone who claims that client investments are at risk from banking issues is ignoring this basic fact. For more information on asset protections, please visit: www.schwab.com/legal/account-protection.
Schwab also owns a bank, though not like other retail banks. Our bank structure exists to help us serve investors’ banking needs. It also helps our financial performance, which enables us to better serve our clients and continue to lower costs. As a different kind of firm – a broker-dealer with a banking side – we do not believe one should confuse our business model with regional banks, or any other banks for that matter, that have different business lines, client bases, and geographic footprints.
It is also important to remember that Schwab was built to serve clients through all economic environments. Our broad base of high-quality clients is well protected. Our firm has capital well in excess of regulatory requirements, a high-quality and relatively small loan book, and a conservative investment portfolio of securities backed by the U.S. Treasury and various government agencies. And more than 80 percent of client cash held at Schwab Bank is insured dollar-for-dollar by the FDIC.
We hope our long track record, conservative approach, and strong financial foundation is all you need to know to feel confident in our ability to serve clients over the long term. But we do know in the swirl of the past two weeks, some very important points are being misunderstood (or sometimes misrepresented) in the public discussion of what is happening. Here is our perspective on some of the misconceptions that have come up:
- Our stock price does not reflect the strength of our business. Stock prices go up and down and we do not manage our business according to the stock price, but rather according to our long-term view on what is best for our clients and the health of the business. That said, we do not believe recent stock performance reflects our long-term business fundamentals and opportunity. As we shared for the week ending March 17, clients brought to Schwab more than $16 billion in core net new assets. We have attracted core net new assets of approximately $116 billion year to date through yesterday, and have added nearly $1 trillion in the past two years. We see strong flows continuing and remain confident in our fundamentals.
- Focusing attention on ‘unrealized losses’ in our held-to-maturity (HTM) portfolio is very misleading. These “paper losses” are unrealized and would only be realized if we had to sell those securities. The profile of our depositors is very different from regional banks. Given our significant access to sources of liquidity, there is a near-zero chance we’d need to sell any of our HTM portfolio prior to maturity. That would be akin to assuming a large retail bank would sell a substantial portion of its loan portfolio.
- Client deposits may move, but they are not leaving the firm. As is the case in every cycle, clients make choices about where to best allocate their assets. As interest rates have increased over the last year, our clients have made choices to reallocate assets within their Schwab portfolios, to reflect their preferences in this market. And in fact, we have actively encouraged them to do so. The important point is that those allocation decisions result in the assets staying at Schwab. Despite the events of the last two weeks, we have not seen any meaningful change in client behavior regarding their cash.
- We have taken relatively little risk in our portfolio. We take very little credit risk. More than 85 percent of our assets are in a high-quality, liquid portfolio invested in government or agency-backed securities. As a comparison, most major banks have a majority of assets in multi-year residential and commercial loans with significant duration, varying credit quality and little liquidity. We feel comfortable that our portfolio carries materially less credit, duration (sensitivity to rate changes) and liquidity risk than many of those other banks.
- The way we manage our balance sheet is very straightforward and hasn’t changed. We invest in high-quality securities with a portfolio duration that today is around four years, and just over two years in our available-for-sale (AFS) portfolio. Because of the quality of our portfolio, we are able to maintain access to high levels of liquidity that allow us to hold these investments to maturity if we choose. We have taken this same approach since we began offering banking services almost 20 years ago. We did not make a bet on interest rate movements going down or up, and we did not extend our portfolio long term like some other institutions.
- We do not forecast Fed rates or make investments based on where rates are going. In our regular business updates, we have relayed the consensus opinion of the market (e.g., Fed Dot plots) at the time. These are not our predictions; we never base our strategy off our own view of interest rates. We share those market opinions in the context of helping analysts understand our business model and potential financial performance.
- Comparing unrealized losses across firms with different business models can be misleading. Schwab Bank has a different business model than traditional banks. Our deposits come from transactional cash in clients’ brokerage accounts that is swept to our banks. We use about 10 percent of that cash to fund loans to our existing clients and with the remaining 90 percent, we buy securities – the vast majority of which are backed by the U.S. Government. With rates moving up, the fair value of all fixed rate assets – loans or securities – has gone down. But given that our securities are very high quality, we fully expect our securities to reach par at maturity, which means the unrealized “paper” losses will decrease over time. Because a much higher percentage of our assets are securities – and traditional bank loans are not disclosed the same way – our paper losses may appear larger than those of traditional banks. But that assessment lacks the appropriate context. In reality, our portfolio has less credit risk and is actually less sensitive to changes in interest rates than many large banks.
Not all financial institutions are the same; not even all banks are the same. So, one can understand how many watching the public dialogue on banking issues right now might conflate our brokerage-centric business with that of other banks. That is why it is important we set the record straight on some of these topics.
For more than 50 years, our conservative approach to managing risk has allowed our clients to weather market cycles and successfully manage their wealth. We remain confident in our client-centric approach, the performance of our business, and the long-term stability of our company. We are different than other banks. But it is precisely because we are different that we have grown to earn the trust of more than 34 million accounts across a broad spectrum of business lines in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. With this additional information, we trust you too can see why we are proud to be a firm like no other.
Charles Schwab Founder and Co-chairman
Walt Bettinger CEO and Co-chairman