On Tuesday the chairman of the FDIC put out a public service announcement urging people to keep their cash in the bank, as customers of U.S. banks and credit unions have been making big withdrawals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and recession.
In the video, Chairman Jelena McWilliams urges viewers to trust that despite the global health and economic crises currently going on, money in the bank is safer than in your purse or under your mattress. Throughout various panics and crises since the creation of the FDIC, during the depth of the Great Depression, no one with money in an FDIC-insured bank has ever lost any of it due to bank failure, McWilliams said.
"We have heard anecdotally about people pulling money out of their account," McWilliams told Cheddar by phone Wednesday. "Nothing systemic, nothing that gives us concern about the system and financial stability of the U.S."
She added that she's been in communication with the Federal Reserve to make sure bank branches have sufficient cash flow and any demand for cash is being met.
But its big concern isn't necessarily with people hoarding cash, it's where they might invest it instead.
"Truly the impact that we're concerned about is people take money out thinking that it's safer to put it in different asset categories, and then getting burned later on because those categories are not protected by the U.S. government," McWilliams said, adding that there has been "an increase in bad actors preying on unsuspecting public" with that kind of rhetoric.
In times of such uncertainty and market turmoil, investors tend to look to safe havens to protect themselves. Gold, currently facing a historic squeeze, is the most common safe haven asset. Arguably, bitcoin is too.
And while the PSA was meant to convey confidence, for many, it did just the opposite, making commenters feel the FDIC is panicked and that withdrawing funds is exactly what they should be doing and urging others to put their money in bitcoin.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created in 1933 to insure bank deposits and protect customers from any losses by the banks that hold them. Banks pay a premium into the Deposit Insurance Fund, McWilliams explained. If one of them fails, the depositors come out with their money anyway.
"Even if we need to go above and beyond the bank assets to pay out depositors and then replenish the funds," she said. "That is something I think is lost on people in this fear-mongering rhetoric that people are trying to capitalize on."
McWilliams also warned against a potential proliferation of online scams and phishing attempts, assuring that the FDIC will never solicit consumers' personal information by email, mail, or telephone.
"Don't be fooled by those who are using this national emergency to scam consumers," she said. "Be careful not to fall for those old-time tricks to get you to part with your money with phishing emails, telemarketers, or direct solicitation email."
The FDIC insures customer deposits up to $250,000 per depositor at FDIC-insured institutions. That's not going to change, McWilliams said.
However, the agency isn't currently anticipating any bank failures, she added. Unlike in the 2008 recession, banks have been well-capitalized going into the current coronavirus crisis; and even if the health crisis has sent shocks to the global economy, banks aren't seeking funds to continue operations.
"This is going to be an opportunity for banks as service vehicles to lend to people in need, to work with people to modify their loans, to be good stewards of their communities, to help us get through this crisis and move forward."