I have been fascinated by Chile’s financial system since I did my dissertation research on Chilean monetary policy while at the Universidad Católica during 1980-1981. During 1985-1986 I taught at the Universidad de Chile on a Fulbright Fellowship while doing research on Chile’s then ongoing financial crisis. This research led me to organize a conference funded by the Sequoia Institute that compared Chile’s financial crisis with the savings and loan crisis in Texas in the mid-1980s. The resulting conference volume, entitled If Texas were Chile: a Primer on Banking Reform, was published in 1992.
In the late 1990s I was fortunate to work with Liliana Rojas-Suarez on a research project--funded by the Interamerican Development Bank--on interest rate spreads in Latin American banking systems. The research papers were published in our co-edited volume Why So High? Understanding Interest Rate Spreads in Latin America. Our separate co-authored paper, Understanding the Behavior of Bank Spreads in Latin America, was published in the Journal of Development Economics in 2000. I did further work with my co-author Helmut Franken on interest rate spreads in Chile, which was published in the Chilean Central Bank journal Economía Chilena in 2003.
Over time I have developed a strong interest in the history of Chile’s financial system. In 2007-2008 I received funding from the Central Bank for a project on a history of Chile’s Caja de Crédito Hipotecario. The Caja’s creation in 1855 as the second oldest national mortgage bank in the world was patterned after the legislation that created the Crédit Foncier de France in 1852. The results of this research were published in 2009 in Economía Chilena.
My current research is on the political and institutional setting in Chile that--during a ten-year period between 1854 and 1864--saw the creation of the Chilean Civil Code, its Commercial Code, the initiation of securitized mortgage and investment banking, and the passage of free banking legislation. This embryonic financial “big bang” continues to exert an important influence on contemporary Chile. When purchasing a property in Chile today, the sale must be filed with the Conservador de Bienes Raíces, a national property registry that was established in 1857 by the Chilean Civil Code of 1855. Mortgage financing in Chile today can be obtained from a bank in the form of letras de crédito: the same type of long-term mortgage bonds that were originally issued in 1856 by the Caja de Crédito Hipotecario, but which are now also indexed to inflation. BancoEstado, Chile’s third largest and only public bank, traces its origins back over 160 years to the founding of the Caja de Crédito Hipotecario.