The mass transfer of funds out of a troubled bank by online users.
What if there were a run on a bank and no one knew? In recent days some U.S. media have focused on a "silent run" on the deposits of Wachovia bank, which is now being taken over, after a bailout plan stalled and its rival Washington Mutual was seized.
Commentators including Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University's Stern School of Business, have highlighted the scope for quiet withdrawals by depositors whose assets exceed guaranteed levels.
But in Europe, another high-profile banking failure has drawn attention to a different 21st-century phenomenon: as homes and businesses increasingly manage their finances online, mass withdrawals may be invisible.
—Reed Stevenson and Steve Slater, "Bank savers run at the click of a mouse," Reuters, October 8, 2008
The widespread use of online banking services is putting banks under threat of silent runs on banks.
On Thursday, 13 September, the Bank's court met at 9.30pm. The non-executives gathered in a small modern conference room to be told of the problems of the Rock and the proposed rescue. But even as they were meeting, the BBC was reporting both the Rock's difficulties and its decision to seek a loan from the Bank. The intention was to announce the rescue to the stock market the next day — with the appropriate reassurances — but the cat was out of the bag. A silent run on the Rock began that very evening as online customers sought to remove their cash, only to find their efforts foiled: the Rock's IT systems collapsed under the strain and the website went down. By Friday, September 14, the first mass run on a British bank since the 1860s was under way.
—Alex Brummer, "Where the Credit Crash came from," Management Today, May 1, 2008
The phrase silent run isn't even remotely new. It has been around since at least 1909 to refer to an unnoticed run on a bank's deposits, particularly by one or more corporations withdrawing large amounts of money. What's new is that these silent runs can now happen more frequently because ordinary depositors can easily use online banking to withdraw or transfer funds. In the past, a run on a bank occurred when your hockey moms and Joe the plumbers descended on a bank en masse, a la It's a Wonderful Life, and those runs weren't "silent" because the rest of us could see it happening (directly or via the media). Today's online runs are silent because in cyberspace no one can see you withdraw your money.
Many thanks to Word Spy member rajeck for spying the new sense of this phrase.