Central Bank

A central bank is the primary financial institution responsible for overseeing a country's monetary system, regulating financial institutions,

The logo of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

A central bank is the primary financial institution responsible for overseeing a country’s monetary system, regulating financial institutions, and managing the nation’s currency and money supply.

The central bank operates independently of the government to ensure stability in the economy by implementing monetary policies, controlling interest rates, and supervising the banking sector.

Central Bank of Nigeria
Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja.

Characteristics of a Central Bank

1. Establishment through Legislative Authority: Central banks are instituted through an act of parliament or legislative body. This legislative foundation provides the central bank with legal authority, autonomy, and specific mandates to carry out its functions.

2. A Single Institution with Branches: A central bank is the sole entity entrusted with crucial monetary responsibilities within a country. It often operates through a network of branches that extend its reach.

3. Non-Profit-Oriented Objective: Unlike commercial entities driven by profit motives, the primary objective of a central bank isn’t profit maximisation. Instead, its focus revolves around maintaining monetary stability, regulating financial institutions, and overseeing the overall health of the economy.

4. Ownership by the Federal Government: Central banks are commonly owned or operated by the federal government, emphasising their close ties to national governance. However, while government-owned, central banks often operate independently to execute monetary policies free from immediate political influence.

5. Apex Financial Institution: A central bank holds the pinnacle position within a country’s financial hierarchy. Its authority supersedes that of other financial institutions.

6. Limited Transactions with Private Individuals: Unlike commercial banks that engage extensively with private individuals for various financial services, central banks predominantly interact with commercial banks, governments, and other financial institutions. Their primary focus lies in managing the broader monetary framework rather than catering directly to private individuals.

7. Sole Authority for Currency Issuance: Central banks hold exclusive legal authority to issue and regulate a country’s currency.

The new one thousand naira notes. Photo by Sunday Abegunde on Unsplash

Functions of the Central Bank

1. Government’s Financial Facilitator: The central bank operates as the fiscal agent of the federal government. It handles the government’s financial transactions and manages its accounts. The apex financial institution also oversees the government’s revenues and expenditures.

2. Bank for Banks: A central bank functions as the bankers’ bank. It provides support and essential services to commercial banks. Some of these services include maintaining reserve requirements and facilitating interbank transactions.

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3. Representative of Government Interests: The central bank acts as an agent for the federal government. It conducts various financial operations on behalf of the government, including managing public debt, issuing securities, and executing monetary policies aligned with government objectives.

4. Custodian of Currency Issuance: Central banks exclusively issue and regulate a nation’s currency in order to ensure its stability, authenticity, and appropriate circulation within the economy.

5. Lender of Last Resort: During financial crises or when banks face liquidity shortages, the central bank serves as a lender of last resort. In other words, it provides emergency funding to stabilise the financial system and prevent systemic collapse.

6. Economic Regulation: They implement monetary policies, adjust interest rates, and manage the money supply to influence economic growth, inflation rates, and employment levels.

7. Advisory Role for Commercial Banks: They offer guidance and recommendations to commercial banks. They provide insights and regulations to ensure prudent banking practices in order to enhance stability within the financial sector.

8. Supervisory Control Over Commercial Banks: Central banks maintain oversight and control over commercial banks. They enforce regulations, monitor their operations, and intervene when necessary to ensure compliance with established guidelines and maintain financial stability.

9. Management of Foreign Exchange Reserves: Controlling and managing a nation’s foreign exchange reserves falls within the purview of the central bank. This responsibility involves safeguarding reserves, ensuring stability in currency exchange rates, and managing international trade dynamics.

10. Advisory Role for the Government: Central banks provide guidance and recommendations to the government regarding fiscal and monetary policies.

Ghanaian Cedis Notes

How Central Banks Can Regulate Commercial Banks

Let’s look into the mechanisms employed by the central bank to regulate commercial banks:

1. Open Market Operations: By engaging in the buying or selling of securities, the central bank manipulates the money supply in circulation. Purchasing securities injects money into the system, while selling them withdraws money.

2. Special Deposit Requirements: The central bank may issue directives requiring commercial banks to maintain special deposits beyond their mandatory reserves. This action limits the funds available for lending. It reduces credit availability and curbs excessive expansion of credit by commercial banks.

3. Bank Rate Adjustments: By adjusting the bank rate, or discount rate, the central bank indirectly affects interest rates across the banking sector. Raising the discount rate makes borrowing more expensive for commercial banks, leading to increased lending rates. Conversely, lowering the rate encourages lending by making borrowing more affordable.

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4. Special Directives: Central banks issue specific directives to guide the lending policies and practices of commercial banks and other financial institutions. These directives serve as guidelines that influence the direction of credit allocation and investment decisions within the banking sector.

5. Cash Reserve Requirements: Commercial banks are mandated by law to maintain a certain percentage of their cash reserves or liquid assets with the central bank. By adjusting these reserve requirements (also known as the liquidity ratio), the central bank can influence the amount of money circulating within the economy.

6. Moral Suasion: Using persuasion rooted in moral reasoning rather than legal mandates, the central bank employs moral suasion to influence the behaviour and decision-making of commercial banks. This approach aims to encourage prudent financial practices and responsible lending without resorting to regulatory compulsion.

Impact of Central Banks on Economic Development in West Africa

Central Bank of the Gambia
Central Bank of the Gambia

The central banks of West African countries are instrumental in the economic development of West Africa. They make diverse contributions that impact regional economies in West Africa, some of which we are going to list below:

1. Issuance of Currency: Central banks in West Africa hold the responsibility of issuing and regulating the national currency.

2. Agricultural Funding Initiatives: Central banks support the backbone of many West African economies. They often provide funding and financial support to the agriculture sector. These initiatives aim to enhance agricultural productivity, support farmers, and ensure food security.

3. Industrial Funding Programmes: Central banks also facilitate funding and financial assistance to foster industrial growth and development. They support the establishment and expansion of industries while contributing to employment generation and the economic diversification of the region.

4. Crisis Prevention in the Banking Sector: Central banks actively work to prevent banking crises by implementing regulations, conducting supervisory oversight, and providing support mechanisms. These actions help safeguard the economy from severe disruptions.

5. Advisory Role for Government: Central banks serve as key advisors to governments in West Africa. Their expertise and recommendations on monetary policies, fiscal measures, and economic strategies assist governments in making informed decisions crucial for sustainable economic growth and stability.

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6. Currency Value Control: Central banks monitor and control the value of currencies. They stabilise exchange rates by ensuring the strength and stability of local currencies against external fluctuations.

7. Oversight of External Reserves: Central banks maintain a vigilant watch over external reserves, which include foreign currencies and assets.

8. Promotion of Export Activities: Central banks in West Africa encourage and facilitate export activities. They offer financial incentives, support programmes, and policies with the aim of boosting exports. They contribute to economic growth, increase foreign exchange earnings, and enhance trade balances.

9. Facilitating Government Borrowing: Central banks often act as agents for government borrowing by issuing bonds or securities on behalf of the government. This process allows governments to access funding necessary for developmental projects and essential expenditures.

Central Bank of Ghana
Bank of Ghana

Differences between Central Bank and Commercial Banks

We have written a different post about commercial banks and their functions. You can go ahead and check out the post. It is on the premise of what we’ve written in the post and so far in this post that we are going to examine the differences between the central bank and commercial banks.

  1. The central bank is owned by the federal government, while commercial banks can be owned by state governments, organisations, or individuals.
  2. The central bank does not accept deposits, unlike commercial banks, which accept deposits.
  3. The central bank is established by an act of parliament as the sole institution in the country, whereas commercial banks are numerous and established through incorporation.
  4. The central bank focuses less on profit-making as opposed to commercial banks, which are established with the primary aim of making profits.
  5. The central bank issues currencies, while commercial banks do not have the authority to issue currencies but engage in transactions with private individuals.
  6. The central bank has direct control over foreign exchange, while commercial banks go through the central bank for such transactions.
  7. The central bank answers directly to the federal government, while commercial banks are accountable to their shareholders.


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