Banking dynamics

Thursday, July 27, 2006

U.S. banking has presented an interesting dynamic in recent years. For a while it appeared as if most banks were being swallowed up by a handful of national banking giants competing for deposits, controlling major credit cards, making most consumer and housing loans, providing venture capital and bankrolling businesses.

Any of the hundreds of branches of these megabanks look the same and provide the same services, no matter where you are. For many bank customers who move more often than they pay taxes and measure on-the-job longevity in months rather than years, the big banks are just the ticket.

But the big-bank flurry of acquisitions and consolidations prompted another trend: small, locally owned banks. In Cape Girardeau alone there nine such banks, all competing for a piece of their share of checking and savings accounts, car loans and mortgages.

Small banks are used to competition -- but on a scale that puts most such institutions on fairly equal financial footing. Now the banking dynamic may be about to change again. Retail giant Wal-Mart plans to offer banking services to its customers, including those who currently have no bank accounts and want to deposit their checks or have access to debit or credit cards.

Some banks are worried about the Wal-Mart move, but others say the competition will be fine -- as long as everyone is required to play by the same rules. That's what state and federal banking regulators are for.

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