Modern day banking arose in fourteenth century Italy. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472 in Siena, is currently the oldest operating bank in the world. The origins of the American banking system date back to 1780 with the founding of the Bank of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Its goal was to provide funding for the Continental Army that was fighting the Revolutionary War, helping the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and giving loans to merchants in Philadelphia. This was followed by banks in New York and Boston in 1784, Providence in 1791 and Baltimore in 1795.
The First Bank of the United States, established in 1791, was the first attempt at establishing a central bank that would take care of the financial needs of the federal government. However, supporters of states’ rights, who were mostly from the South, clashed with the federalists, who were mostly from the North, and the bank’s charter lapsed in 1811. A few years later, the War of 1812 necessitated the chartering of the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. Its charter lapsed in 1836 largely due to pressure from President Andrew Jackson. The reasons were both political and a response to widespread corruption. This was followed by the free banking era (1837-1863), when all commercial banks were chartered by states. Each bank issued its own banknotes, which often had a different value than a banknote of similar denomination issued by a different bank. The National Bank Acts of 1863 and 1864 eventually created a new system of federally chartered banks called national banks. Periodic banking crises characterized the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. When the large Heinze Trust Company failed in 1907, people panicked and the resulting financial crisis was so severe that the U.S. government turned to J. P. Morgan to bail out the banking system. Economists and politicians were coming around to the view that having a central bank was critical for the economic success of the country. A few years later,in 1913, the Federal Reserve Act or Glass-Owen Act was under President Woodrow Wilson, creating the Federal Reserve System. The Fed opened its doors in 1914.
The aspect of U.S. commercial banks that we will mostly focus on is their number: at over six thousand, there are significantly more here than in any other country. This is the result of a patchwork of regulations that prevented banks from opening new branches. The McFadden Act of 1927 prohibited banks from opening branches in other states. On the coasts, banks could usually establish branches only within a state. In the interior states, policies were even more restrictive. In Ohio, banks could only open branches in counties adjacent to ones where the bank already had a branch. The most extreme were the sixteen states of Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, all of which had unit banking laws that limited banks to a single office. For instance, the reason the North and South Towers of the historic Wrigley Building in Chicago had to be connected by a pedestrian walkway in 1931 was because the only way a bank with a rapidly expanding portfolio could expand by acquiring new space without being in violation of Illinois’ unit banking laws was for the spaces to be physically connected. Historically Americans have been hostile towards large banks, especially in states with large farming populations, as smaller banks are likely to offer more personalized services as they are more intimate with their customers.
There were two main ways of getting around the branching restrictions. One was the emergence of bank holding companies. A bank holding company can own a majority stake in several banks and thus overcome branching restrictions on individual banks. At the forefront of this was Maine, which began allowing bank holding companies from outside the state to purchase banks within the state in 1978. Bank holding companies own banks that account for over 90% of total bank deposits today. The other response was the proliferation of automated teller machines (ATM). Banks realized that if it wasn’t their own ATM but owned and operated by someone else, then the ATM would not be counted as a branch. Cirrus, NYCE and several other companies operate such ATMs where customers of any bank can take out cash for a small fee.
Source: Data taken from www.fdic.gov
The number of banks in the U. S. held steady at a little under 15,000 till the mid –1980s, and started to decline after that. The reason was consolidation (mergers and acquisitions) spurred by deregulation. The Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994 overturned the McFadden Act, and now we have a banking system where banks are free to open branches anywhere they want within the country. All states except Hawaii had already relaxed their branching restrictions by varying degrees by the time of the act, so the Riegle-Neal Act simply sped up the process. Advocates of bank consolidation say consolidation induces economies of scale (increasing the bank size helps spread out the fixed costs) and economies of scope (one institution can be a one-stop shop for a variety of services). These lead to more efficient banks that can choose the services that they want to provide without any interference. Critics say that the elimination of small banks will lead to less lending to small businesses and a few banks dominating the industry, making it less competitive and producing banks that are too big to fail.
Several economists have looked into what the data says about the economic effects of banking deregulation. Among the early studies on the subject, Amel and Liang (1992) found that deregulation in the U.S. banking industry has led to an increase in the number of new branches but not in the number of de novo (new) banks. Calem (1994) found that the small banking sector has contracted in states that have relaxed intra-state branching restrictions, while the relaxation of inter-state branching restrictions has not had an appreciable effect. Intra-state branching restrictions prevented many banks from reaching their efficient size. Once the removal of these restrictions enabled them to get to their optimal scale, further deregulation did not lead to significant additional adjustments.
Jayaratne and Strahan (1996) studied the impact of bank branching deregulations during the Reagan administration on economic growth in the U. S. states and found that growth rates increased substantially following the reforms. The cause of this increase was not a rise in the volume of bank lending but rather the quality of bank lending, as measured by non-performing loans, the fraction of loans written off and the fraction of loans classified as “insider loans”. Kroszner and Strahan (1999), on the other hand, came to the conclusion that much of the deregulatory patterns could be explained by the private-interest theory of regulation. Better organized groups (usually large banks and bank-dependent firms) use the coercive power of the state to capture rents at the expense of the less organized ones (usually smaller and medium-sized banks). Hence reform occurs later in states where small banks are stronger relative to big banks; contrary to what the competitive framework suggests, geographically adjacent states did not necessarily deregulate at the same time. Furthermore, starting in the seventies, location began to matter less and less due to the introduction of ATMs, banking via mail and telephone and falling communication costs (phone services, fax and the internet). As a result, banks started to relent in their fight to preserve their respective geographical monopolies.
Most of these studies date back more than a decade, whereas bank branching decisions and consolidations are ongoing and often intensifying. How did these changes affect the banking industry and the wider economy, especially the industries that borrowed from the banks? We analyzed data from the fifty U.S. states and Washington, DC for the period 1963-2010 in an attempt to answer the question. We focused on the effect of evolving branching regulations on the growth rate of different industrial sectors and on various commercial banking indicators like the number of commercial banks, number of branches and offices, assets and equity.
As local banking markets open up, banks witness increased competition from other in-state banks establishing new branches in areas hitherto only served by them. Unsurprisingly, our results indicated a smaller number of surviving banks that were larger in size. The U.S. banking system prior to deregulation resembled the banking system in present-day Western Europe, where most banks are usually confined within national boundaries. Post-deregulation, it has inched somewhat closer to Canada, which has a handful of big banks, all of which have nationwide presence. Small banks are vulnerable due to inventory issues and overheads, while a bigger bank benefits from economies of scale due to the drop in overhead costs. However, the larger the bank, the more severe the principal-agent problem and the consequent diseconomies of scale. So it can be argued that medium-sized banks are the best for the economy. There is one final factor in the mix: bailouts support bigger banks, as they get bailed out while smaller banks are allowed to fail. This partially offsets the diseconomies of scale. The concentration of the five biggest banks has grown as a result following the financial crisis of 2008.
The effect of deregulation on the numbers of bank branches and offices is very different. While the number of commercial banks was decreasing as a result of post-deregulation consolidation in the banking industry, the number of branches was rising. At the same time, the growth rate in the number of branches was slowing down. This may seem surprising, but technological innovations such as ATMs and increased phone and internet banking have simultaneously reduced the need to have branches.
Interestingly, the annual growth rates of bank assets, bank equity, total deposits and loans all decreased in the post-deregulation period. This slowdown is especially marked in the former unit banking states. This might reflect the acquiring and subsequent conversion of former unit banks (or other small banks in the non-unit banking states) into branches of the acquiring bank and their eventual closure if the branches turned out to be unprofitable. This would leave some locations unserved or underserved by banks. It could also be the result of an increase in the number of credit unions or other alternatives to commercial banks in these states; post-2008, a significant number of customers have also moved away from larger banks towards credit unions.
Rajan and Zingales (1998) focused on a specific factor that might cause bank lending to raise the growth rate of the economy. They argue that financial development makes external finance less costly and different industries have different degrees of dependence on external finance. Hence industries like drugs & pharmaceuticals and plastic products that use a lot of external capital should grow faster than industries like tobacco and pottery that use the least. Their cross-country data indeed supports this view. Our results were quite different. Instead of witnessing accelerating growth rates as a result of increased supervision by lending institutions, the average growth rate of U.S. industries that borrow more from banks have been markedly slower in the post-deregulation period. While looking deeper into the reasons was beyond the scope of our current research, possible explanations are the increasing market share of non-bank financial intermediaries and the general decline of manufacturing industries in the U.S.
Dr. Ranajoy Ray-Chaudhuri is a Lecturer of Economics at The Ohio State University.
Amel, D. and Liang, N. (1992) The Relationship between Entry into Banking Markets and Changes in Legal Restrictions on Entry, The Antitrust Bulletin, 37(3), 631-649.
Calem, P. (1994) The Impact of Geographic Deregulation on Small Banks, Business Review, The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 17-31.
Jayaratne, J. and Strahan, P. (1996) The Finance-Growth Nexus: Evidence from Bank Branch Deregulation, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 111(3), 639-670.
Kroszner, R. and Strahan, P. (1999) What Drives Deregulation? Economics and Politics of the Relaxation of Bank Branching Restrictions, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(4), 1437-1467.
Rajan, R. and Zingales, (1998) L. Financial Dependence and Growth, The American Economic Review, 88(3), 559-586.