Are Estimates of the Economic Contribution of Financial Services Reliable

Brian Sturgess

Published: March 2017

The methods used to estimate the contribution of financial services to national income are seriously flawed. Banking sector output in the UK was estimated to have increased in 2008 while the financial services sector was collapsing. The relative contribution of service activities in GDP is not easy to measure, but there are many problems in measuring financial services in general and the output of banks in particular. National income accounting standards, used to estimate the output of financial intermediation companies such as banks, rely on flawed indirect measurements based on interest rate spreads. Furthermore, many services are provided at no charge so price indexes cannot be meaningfully created. The main method used, Financial Intermediation Services Indirectly Measured (FISIM), is arbitrary and fails to measure the quality of banking assets and risk. Over the period 2003–7, one study found that aggregate risk-adjusted output would have been only 60% of officially estimated output across the Euro area.

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