This article was co-published with Yes! Magazine.
Here’s a statistic that ought to alarm anyone interested in rebuilding local economies and redirecting the flow of capital away from Wall Street and toward more productive ends: Over the last seven years, one of every four community banks has disappeared. We have 1,971 fewer of these small, local financial institutions today than at the beginning of 2008. Some 500 failed outright, with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) stepping in to pay their depositors. Most of the rest were acquired and absorbed into bigger banks.
To illustrate this disturbing trend and highlight a few of the reasons we should treat it as a national crisis, we’ve published a trove of new graphs. These provide a startling look at the pace of change and its implications. In 1995, megabanks — giant banks with more than $100 billion in assets (in 2010 dollars) — controlled 17 percent of all banking assets. By 2005, their share had reached 41 percent. Today, it is a staggering 59 percent. Meanwhile, the share of the market held by community banks and credit unions — local institutions with less than $1 billion in assets — plummeted from 27 percent to 11 percent. You can watch this transformation unfold in our 90-second video, which shows how four massive banks — Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo — have come to dominate the sector, each growing larger than all of the nation’s community banks put together.
“If we continue to go down this path, we’ll kill this concept of relationship banking,” contends Rebeca Romera Rainey, the third-generation CEO of Centinel Bank in Taos, New Mexico. Like other community banks, Centinel makes lending decisions based on its relationships with its customers and deep knowledge of the local market. It underwrites a wide range of business loans and home mortgages to local families. Many of these borrowers would likely not qualify for big-bank financing because they do not fit neatly into the standardized formulas megabanks use to evaluate their risk of default. Continue reading