Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan in a speech to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors in April 1994 observed: "I am often bemused when both foreign and American observers compare the U.S. and foreign banking structures, note the uniqueness of the American System and conclude that since the American banking system is so different it should be changed. . . . Our banking system is, in fact, the envy of the world, in part because of its ability to rebound from crises that may well have devastated more rigid banking systems."
Dr. Greenspan's statement is still true as far as it goes, but what he (probably unintentionally) left out of the story is that American banking is being inexorably pushed by economic forces and government regulations towards a system that looks increasingly like the British and the Canadians and most other banking systems around the world--a handful of dominating banks operating hundreds, if not thousands, of branch offices and affiliated businesses worldwide. Industry statistics tell the story: (1) the total number of U.S. banks has fallen in less than ten years from more than fourteen thousand to less than ten thousand; (2) the number of independently owned banks has fallen by more than 20 percent over the same period; (3) branch offices of existing banks have soared to more than sixty-five thousand and automated teller machines (ATMs) in stores and shopping centers now exceed one hundred thousand; (4) in only fifteen years, from 1980 to 1995, forty-nine states passed legislation allowing banking firms from other states