The Biggest Changes in Banking Since 1993
When Bank Director hosted its first Acquire or Be Acquired Conference 25 years ago, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” held the top spot on Billboard’s Top 40 chart.
Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird, was about to retire.
Readers flocked to bookstores for the latest New York Times best seller: “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as president of the United States.
And the internet wasn’t yet on the public radar, nor was Sarbanes Oxley, the financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act, Occupy Wall Street or the #MeToo movement.
It was 1993, and buzzwords like “digital transformation” were more intriguing to science-fiction fans than to officers and directors at financial institutions.
My, how times have changed.
When we introduced Acquire or Be Acquired to bank CEOs and leadership teams a quarter century ago, there were nearly 11,000 banks in the country. Federal laws prohibited interstate banking at the time, leaving it up to the states to decide if a bank holding company in one state would be allowed to acquire a bank in another state. And commercial and investment banks were still largely kept separate.
Today, there are fewer than half as many commercial banks—of the 10 banks with the largest markets caps in 1993, only five still exist as independent entities.
It’s not only the number of banks that has changed, either; the competitive dynamics of our industry have changed, too.
Three banks are so big that they’re prohibited from buying other banks. These behemoths—JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.—each control more than 10 percent of total domestic deposits.
Some people see this as an evolutionary process, where the biggest and strongest players consume the weakest, painting a pessimistic, Darwinian picture of the industry.
Yet, this past year was the most profitable for banks in history.
Net income in the industry reached a record level in 2018, thanks to rising interest rates and the corporate tax cut.
Profitability benchmarks in place since the 1950s had to be raised. Return on assets jumped from 1 percent to 1.2 percent, return on equity climbed from 10 percent to 12 percent.
Nonetheless, ominous threats remain on the horizon, some drawing ever nearer.
- Interest rates are rising, which could spark a recession and influence the allocation of deposits between big and little banks.
- Digital banking is here. Three quarters of Bank of America’s deposits are completed digitally, with roughly the same percentage of mortgage applications at U.S. Bancorp completed on mobile devices.
- Innovation will only accelerate, as banks continue investing in technology initiatives.
- Credit quality is pristine now, but the cycle will turn. We are, after all, 40 quarters into what is now the second-longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
- Consolidation will continue, though no one knows at what rate.
But it shouldn’t be lost that certain things haven’t changed. Chief among these is the fact that bankers and the institutions they run remain at the center of our communities, fueling this great country’s growth.
That’s why it’s been such an honor for us to host this prestigious event each year for the past quarter century.
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