Posted tagged ‘Financial services’

“Too Big to Fail” or “Too Small to Succeed”?

March 21, 2016

Community banks’ share of the U.S. banking market has declined significantly over the past two decades but since 2010, around the time the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed, community banks’ share of all U.S. banking assets has shrunk at a much faster rate.  Dodd-Frank may be offering consumers greater protections (data on that issue is not readily available and is less straightforward in any case), but the data clearly show that legislation designed to prevent another “too big to fail” financial crisis is also accelerating the declining market share of community banks, contributing to consolidation in the banking industry, and perhaps helping to create more “too big to fail” institutions.  The chart below shows how the volume of assets and loans have changed since the passage of Dodd-Frank for community banks (defined here as those with less than $1 billion in assets), banks with $1 to $10 billion in assets (some researchers consider these banks to be community banks), as well as banks with over $10 billion in assets.

assets and loans

Other than bankers and their regulators, nobody really cares about the market shares of different sized banks, but the out-sized role community banks play in lending to small businesses and the critical role community banks play in smaller communities and rural regions of the country make it an important economic issue for a large slice of the U.S. economy.  In almost one-third of the nation’s counties the only depository institutions located in the county are community banks according to a study by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO).  Small businesses also depend disproportionately on community banks.   The chart below shows that despite holding only 14 percent of all loans in the banking industry in 2006, community banks held 42 percent of all small business loans across the country.  The chart also shows how the rate of decline in the share of all loans held by community banks, as well as small business loans, have accelerated since 2010.

community bank shares

More troubling than the loss of market share by community banks (after all, does it matter as long as lending to small businesses increases?) is the sharp absolute decline in small business lending by community banks since the passage of Dodd-Frank.  I think it matters a lot that community banks’ share of lending is declining because of the traditional role of relationship banking and the willingness to consider “soft information” has played in community bank lending decisions and the implications for access to credit by small businesses.  As the chart below shows, as recently as 2006, community banks were the largest source of small business lending by the banking industry.  Since 2010, however, small business loans at community banks have fallen sharply.

 

small business loans

Some of this is the result of consolidation, smaller community banks being acquired by larger, non-community banks. But even that is influenced by Dodd-Frank.  Any regulatory requirement is likely to be disproportionately costly for community banks, since the fixed costs associated with compliance must be spread over a smaller base of assets.  As the GAO reports, regulators, industry participants, and Federal Reserve studies all find that consolidation is likely driven by regulatory economies of scale – larger banks are better suited to handle heightened regulatory burdens than are smaller banks, causing the average costs of community banks to be higher.

The implications for small businesses and for the economies of smaller and more rural communities are clear. As regulations require more standardized lending and reflect bigger bank processes and practices, community bank lending will be constrained and because they are a major source of small businesses loans and major source of local lending in most rural areas, small business and the economies of smaller, more rural communities will be disadvantaged.  Automobile, mortgage, and credit card loans have become increasingly standardized and data driven.  These loans are increasingly made without any personal interactions, via the internet and by less regulated institutions, or by larger banking institutions with the infrastructure to make exclusively data driven lending decisions.  Business loans are different.  Community banks have had to focus to a greater extent on small business and commercial real estate lending – products where community banks’ advantages in forming relationships with local borrowers are still important – as more types of loans have become increasingly standardized.  Community banks generally are relationship banks; their competitive advantage is a knowledge and history of their customers and a willingness to be flexible.  Community banks leverage interpersonal relationships in lieu of financial statements and data-driven models in making lending decisions, allowing them to better able to serve small businesses.  Regulatory initiatives such as Dodd-Frank are more reflective of bigger bank lending processes which are transactional, quantitative and dependent on standardization.   Understanding the financials of a business, its prospects, the local community in which it operates, or the prospects for its industry, are hard to standardize.  Community banks ability to gather “soft information” allows them to lend to borrowers that might not be able to get loans from larger institutions that lend with more standardized lending criteria.  The less “soft information” is incorporated into lending decisions, and the more costly become the regulatory requirements on banks, the more community banks will diminish and with it an important asset for small business, and small communities across the country.  It is possible that someday small business lending can be more standardized, less interpersonal, in a way similar to credit card or auto loans and in a way that does not disadvantage small businesses, but I am skeptical.

The debates surrounding financial services regulation since the “great recession” have focused on the safety and soundness of the financial system and on consumer protections, both important objectives, and to be fair, the banking industry too often  appears only self-interested in regulatory debates.  But far too little consideration has been  given to the impact of new financial services regulations on small business, communities, and rural regions of the country.

Authors Note:  I have done some studies for the banking industry in the past.  This post is not an effort to shill for their interests.  This blog is about timely topics that interest me and a place where I can write about them free of any compensated interests.  It is an outlet for my analytical interests and opinions.   I do confess, however, an affinity for community banks and the people who run them because of the strong commitment that they demonstrate to the people, businesses, and communities in which they operate.    

 

A Simpler But No Less Troubling Explanation for Job Growth Trends

December 5, 2012

A lot of analysts, me included, have been looking for reasons why employment growth has been slower much of this recovery.  That prompts questions about whether the slow recovery from recession is the result of cyclical factors (related to swings in the business cycle) or structural factors that fundamentally and longer-term alter the ability of NH and the nation to create jobs.   While some wait for cyclical factors to improve job growth, in NH there is a lot of talk about demographics, migration, and too often (by me at least) the skills gap or mismatch between job openings and the skills of job seekers.  Much of the demographic story, especially concerns about NH’s ability to attract people from other states,  is relevant – except perhaps for the overblown concerns about NH’s “aging” (more about that in future posts).  I believe demographics and things like the skills gap play an important role in the slow recovery and more general downward trend in job growth, both before and following the recession.  But today, I offer another, simpler thesis, but  one that may be no less troubling.   If you look at job growth trends in NH by industry, you see that since the recession, employment weakness has really been most concentrated in  three sectors of the economy;  construction, government, and financial services.   The chart below shows job growth trends over the past several years for total non-agricultural employment in NH,  as well as total employment minus construction, government, and financial services.  Absent the three hardest hit sectors of the economy, job growth following the recession (until recently that is) didn’t look that much different than the recovery from the briefer, milder recession of the early part of the last decade.

recovery

I know construction,  government, and financial services are important but they still represent just over 20 percent of employment in the state, so the weakness in employment isn’t as broad-based as pessimists (including me at times) suggest.   But what is more troubling is that the weakness in these sectors are more structural than cyclical and thus we may be waiting for a rebound that may never occur.  I don’t think that is true for construction, where at least some rebound will occur as the housing market improves, as business investment strengthens, and whenever the fiscal health of governments improve enough for infrastructure spending to pick up.   But weakness in government and financial services employment is likely more structural.  New financial services regulations are likely to be an impediment to job growth in that industry for some time and there is no end in site for the budgetary impediments that will likely continue to weigh on job growth in the government sector.   I, and others, will continue to look at the implications of such things as demographics and skills gaps on recent and prospective job growth, but we can’t fail to recognize that sometimes  answers are less complex than the questions.

The Changing Banking Market

October 23, 2012

Public antipathy toward large financial institutions  may have been building throughout much of the past decade but it surely peaked during and immediately following the recent recession and the financial crisis that helped precipitate it.  One result appears to be a changing market structure for deposits and loans at financial institutions in NH and across the country.  The recession in our state was less severe than was the recession of the early 1990’s, and less severe than was the recent recession  in  many states because of the the overall health and strength of our state’s banking institutions.  Nevertheless, one fallout from the financial crisis appears to be a growing market share for credit unions in the state.  As the chart below shows, since the recent recession, deposits at credit unions have grown much faster than deposits at NH banks overall.  Deposits at NH community banks have grown faster than deposits at all NH banks, suggesting that deposit gains by credit unions have come largely at the expense of large banks in the state, as deposit growth for all NH banks is much lower than the growth among just community banks.  Prior to the recession and financial crisis, deposits at NH community banks were growing faster than were deposits at credit unions.

It would be unfortunate if community banking institutions that have had strong commitments and links to their local communities  and regional economies are tarred by the actions of institutions from afar. Beyond that, a fundamental change in the market shares for financial services could  have significant impacts on the regulation of financial services, on government revenues , and on market shares as the tax exempt status of credit unions contributes to their ability to compete and capture market share.  The increased concentration of deposits in the banking industry that occurred during much of the 1980’s and 1990’s may now  be occurring among credit unions.  As the services credit unions offer and their branching look more and more like those of banks, their ownership and regulatory structure may be the only thing that distinguishes them from banks.


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