With an unallocated account the customer doesn’t have an entitlement to any specific bullion bars, and is a creditor of the bullion bank. So long as the customer is happy with the counterparty risk, this is the cheapest way for him to have exposure to gold. F
rom the bank’s point of view, there is no need to hold more gold than required to meet customer withdrawals. Furthermore, even this gold doesn’t have to be bought, merely leased from a central bank, remaining in the Bank of England’s vault unless needed.
There can be little doubt that the increase in the quantity of gold held in the Bank’s vaults between 2006 and 2013 reflected, among other factors, physical backing for increasing unallocated accounts during the 2000-2012 bull market.
In the past a bullion bank’s risk to a rising gold price either went unhedged, or was managed through derivatives, using forwards futures and options. Therefore, so long as systemic risk is not regarded as a material factor, the bullion banking community can absorb significant gold demand from investors by expanding unallocated accounts without any physical buying required.
However, the investing public’s greater awareness of risk to bank deposits from bail-ins could change this in future.