Number Of U.S. Banks Hits Record Low

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Back in 1985, there were around 18,000 different federally insured banks operating in the U.S. But in the nearly three decades since, numerous failures and mass consolidation has left us with around 38% of that 1985 number, meaning Americans now have the fewest banking options since the federal government began tracking these stats back in 1934.

Most of the vanished banks merged or were snapped up by some larger institution. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 17% of the more than 10,000 banks that stopped existing between 1984 and 2011 were victims of financial ruin.

All it takes is a look at an acquisition-happy institution like Bank of America to see how one fish was gobble up by a slightly larger one, and so on until there are only a few sharks left swimming in the sea.

Before it purchased Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, LaSalle Bank, and Fleet, BofA came out of the merger of NationsBank and BankAmerica. NationsBank had previously purchased Barnett Bank, Boatmen’s Banchshares, and others. It had previously been known as North Carolina National Bank before merging with C&S/Sovran Corp. to become NationsBank.

And that’s just following one branch of the family tree of one of the few large banks still in existence. You’re likely to find similar skeletons of small and mid-size bank corpses in the basements of just about any big bank these days.

The Journal tries, not very convincingly, to make the case that maybe having nearly 1/3 of the number of banks we used to have is a good thing:

The consolidation could help alleviate concerns that the abundance of U.S. banks leads to difficulties in oversight or a less-efficient financial system. Meanwhile, overall bank deposits and assets have grown, despite the drop in institutions.

Yeah, because the remaining banks have shown time and again how amazingly efficient they are… and there is nothing terrifying about having nearly fives times the amount of wealth in the hands of 1/3 the number of financial institutions.

Even more scary is the lack of any new banks on the horizon. Only one new FDIC-insured bank has started up since Dec. 2010, and unless you live in Bird-in-Hand, PA, your banking options are likely dwindling.

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