As above, the financial system consists of the flows of capital that take place between individuals (personal finance), governments (public finance), and businesses (corporate finance). “Finance” thus studies the process of channeling money from savers and investors to entities that need it. Savers and investors have money available which could earn interest or dividends if put to productive use. Individuals, companies and governments must obtain money from some external source, such as loans or credit, when they lack sufficient funds to operate. Although they are closely related, the disciplines of economics and finance are distinct. The economy is a social institution that organizes a society’s production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, all of which must be financed.
In general, an entity whose income exceeds its expenditure can lend or invest the excess, intending to earn a fair return. Correspondingly, an entity where income is less than expenditure can raise capital usually in one of two ways: (i) by borrowing in the form of a loan (private individuals), or by selling government or corporate bonds; (ii) by a corporate selling equity, also called stock or shares (may take various forms: preferred stock or common stock). The owners of both bonds and stock may be institutional investors – financial institutions such as investment banks and pension funds – or private individuals, called private investors or retail investors.
The lending is often indirect, through a financial intermediary such as a bank, or via the purchase of notes or bonds (corporate bonds, government bonds, or mutual bonds) in the bond market. The lender receives interest, the borrower pays a higher interest than the lender receives, and the financial intermediary earns the difference for arranging the loan. A bank aggregates the activities of many borrowers and lenders. A bank accepts deposits from lenders, on which it pays interest. The bank then lends these deposits to borrowers. Banks allow borrowers and lenders, of different sizes, to coordinate their activity.