The Old and the New:
American Banking in Consolidation
The American banking industry is one of the most diverse banking systems in the world. It is, on the one hand, dominated numbers-wise by thousands of small, locally owned institutions but, on the other hand, dominated resource-wise by a handful of banks whose names are known and respected all over the globe. In America, as in no other place on the planet, banking is open both to the smallest and largest financial-service companies despite the impression people may sometimes receive from the industry's leaders and their almost daily announcements of mergers. In fact, many of the smallest American banks outperform the biggest in the industry in earnings, stability of return, portfolio quality, and operating efficiency. Nearly everywhere else on the planet, banks are large and dominating corporations, owning as well as lending to other corporate giants, and many are government owned or government controlled (such as France's Banque National de Paris and Credit Lyonnais).
This uniqueness in the structure of one of the most vital of all American industries reflects, in part, the unique origins of the United States itself. Founded as a nation of farmers, ranchers, and owners of small, family-owned businesses, public fear of concentrated banking power led to a welter of state laws and regulations, later joined by even more stringent federal rules,