What Is the Federal Reserve System (FRS)?

Zarith Sofea · 27 Feb 5.9K Views

The Federal Reserve System (FRS), often referred to as the Fed, stands as the United States' central bank, holding considerable influence on the global financial landscape. Its establishment aimed at ensuring a secure, adaptable, and steady monetary and financial system for the nation.

Comprising a board of seven members and 12 Federal Reserve banks, each functioning independently within their designated districts, the Fed operates with a structure that includes both public and private elements. Despite a common misconception about its ownership, the Federal Reserve System possesses a hybrid nature: its central governing board is an arm of the federal government, accountable to Congress, while the Federal Reserve Banks it supervises are organized in a manner resembling private corporations.

Understanding the Federal Reserve System (FRS)

A central bank is an authoritative financial institution endowed with exclusive control over the creation and dissemination of currency and credit within a nation, union, or coalition of countries. In contemporary economies, the central bank typically assumes the responsibility of crafting monetary policy and overseeing the activities of member banks. In the United States, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) is constituted by 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, each tasked with supervising a specific geographic area of the country.

The establishment of the Fed occurred through the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on December 23, 1913, as a response to the financial turmoil of 1907. Prior to this, the United States stood as a notable financial power without a centralized banking institution. The impetus for its creation stemmed from recurring financial crises that had plagued the U.S. economy throughout the preceding century, resulting in significant economic upheavals marked by bank failures and business insolvencies. The crisis of 1907, in particular, spurred a call for the establishment of an institution aimed at preventing such panics and disruptions.

The Federal Reserve System's main bank regulator, the Fed, has extensive authority to take action to maintain financial stability. It also acts as member institutions' last-resort lender. The Federal Reserve, or Fed for short, is widely known for its "dual mandate" of maintaining both price stability and maximum employment.

Based in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco are the twelve regional Federal Banks of the system.

The Federal Reserve System's Mandate and Duties

The Federal Reserve has dual objectives in its monetary policy, aiming to promote economic conditions that result in stable prices and achieve maximum sustainable employment. The responsibilities of the Fed can be broadly classified into four key areas:

Shaping national monetary policy by influencing monetary and credit conditions within the U.S. economy to ensure optimal employment, price stability, and reasonable long-term interest rates.

Overseeing and regulating banking institutions to safeguard the integrity of the U.S. banking and financial system and to uphold the credit rights of consumers.

Preserving stability in the financial system and mitigating systemic risks.

Providing financial services, which includes playing a crucial role in the operation of the national payments system, serving depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions.

The Federal Reserve System's Independence

Central bank independence pertains to the debate surrounding whether those overseeing monetary policy should be entirely separate from the sphere of government. Advocates for independence acknowledge the potential influence of politics on shaping short-term, election-focused monetary policies that may lead to long-term economic repercussions. On the other hand, critics argue for close coordination between central banks and the government, emphasizing the necessity for regulatory oversight of central bank actions.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is deemed independent because its decisions are not required to be approved by the president or any other government official. Nonetheless, it remains subject to congressional oversight and operates within the parameters of the government's monetary and fiscal policy objectives.

The Federal Reserve System (FRS) vs. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)

The Federal Reserve System consists of key components such as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Federal Reserve Banks, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), and various programs devised by the Fed to fulfill its dual mandate.

At the core of monetary policymaking for the Federal Reserve is the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). This committee plays a pivotal role in conducting open market operations, involving the buying and selling of government securities to influence the reserve levels of banks.

Comprising the Board of Governors (also known as the Federal Reserve Board or FRB), the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and rotating presidents from four other regional Federal Reserve Banks, the FOMC is entrusted with making decisions on monetary policy. These decisions are centered around three main objectives: maximizing employment, stabilizing prices, and moderating long-term interest rates.

Special Considerations

The primary revenue stream for the Federal Reserve comes from the interest accrued on a variety of U.S. government securities obtained through open market operations (OMO). Additional sources of income include interest from foreign currency investments, loans to depository institutions, and service fees for activities like check clearing and fund transfers provided to these institutions. After covering its expenses, the Federal Reserve transfers the remaining earnings to the U.S. Treasury.

The Fed's payment system, known as Fedwire, facilitates the daily transfer of trillions of dollars between banks across the United States, with transactions settled on the same day.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has heightened its focus on addressing the risk associated with the time gap between early-day payments and their subsequent settlement and reconciliation. The Fed is urging major financial institutions to enhance real-time monitoring of payments and credit risk, a capability previously available only at the end of the day.

In response to these challenges, the Fed has introduced FedNow, a modern payment system intended to replace traditional and slower settlement systems. FedNow was officially launched in July 2023.


The US central banking system is called the Federal Reserve System. In order to fulfill its mandate of price stability and maximum employment, the Fed uses the system and the tools at its disposal to set interest rates and control the money supply.

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