Banking in the United States

Banking in the United States began in the late 1790s along with the country's founding and has developed into highly influential and complex system of banking and financial services. Anchored by New York City and Wall Street, it is centered on various financial services namely private banking, asset management, and deposit security.

The earliest remnants of the banking industry can be traced to 1790 when the Bank of Pennsylvania was founded to fund the American Revolutionary War. After merchants from the Thirteen Colonies needed a currency as a medium of exchange, the Bank of North America was opened to facilitate more advanced financial transactions.

As of 2018, the largest banks the United States were JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs. It is estimated that banking assets were equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy.


In the early 1700s, merchants traveled from Britain to the United States and established the Bank of Pennsylvania in 1790 to fund the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).[1] During this time, the Thirteen Colonies had not established currency and used informal trade to finance their daily activities.[1] On January 4, 1782, the first commercial bank in the U.S., Bank of North America, opened.[1] Soon after U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton created the Bank of the United States (1791), a national bank meant to maintain American taxes and pay off foreign debt.[1] After President Andrew Jackson closed the bank in 1832 and redirect all bank assets into U.S. state banks.[1] State banks began printing money rapidly sparking run away inflation and leading to the Panic of 1837.[1]

Investment banking began in the 1860s with the establishment of Jay Cooke & Company, one of the first issuers of government bonds.[1] In 1863, the National Bank Act was passed to create a national currency, a federal banking system, and make public loans.[1] However at this time not all states had yet formally joined the union. In Oklahoma territory, which did not become a state until 1907, Muskogee mayor H.B. Spaulding resigned in 1902 from his position as vice-president of the Territorial Trust and Surety Company, after his Spaulding Mercantile Company was given a charter to found a private bank. Similarly in 1903 several more private banks were founded. One contemporary banker from Oklahoma defending the vitality of these private non-US banks did note that a small number of bank failures had resulted from a "dip in deposits due to partial crop failure".[2]

In 1913 the Federal Reserve was established and began executing monetary policy.[1] The Great Depression saw to the separation between investment and commercial banking known as the "Glass-Steagall Act",[1] but the Act was repealed in 1991 leading to the 2008 financial crisis.[1]

Regulatory agencies

While most of these countries have only one bank regulator, in the U.S., banking is regulated at both the federal and state level.[3] Depending on its type of charter and organizational structure, a banking organization may be subject to numerous federal and state banking regulations. Unlike Switzerland and the United Kingdom (where regulatory authority over the banking, securities and insurance industries is combined into one single financial-service agency), the U.S. maintains separate securities, commodities, and insurance regulatory agencies—separate from the bank regulatory agencies—at the federal and state level.[4] U.S. banking regulations address privacy, disclosure, fraud prevention, anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism, anti-usury lending, and the promotion of lending to lower-income populations. Some individual cities also enact their own financial regulation laws (for example, defining what constitutes usurious lending).[3]

Federal Reserve system

The central banking system of the United States, called the Federal Reserve system, was created in 1913 by the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, largely in response to a series of financial panics, particularly a severe panic in 1907.[5][6] Over time, the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve System have expanded and its structure has evolved.[7] Events such as the Great Depression were major factors leading to changes in the system.[8] Its duties today, according to official Federal Reserve documentation, are to conduct the nation's monetary policy, supervise and regulate banking institutions, maintain the stability of the financial system and provide financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions.[9]

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is a United States government corporation created by the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933. It provides deposit insurance, which guarantees the safety of deposits in member banks, up to $250,000 per depositor per bank. As of November 18, 2010, the FDIC insures deposits at 6,800 institutions.[10] The FDIC also examines and supervises certain financial institutions for safety and soundness, performs certain consumer-protection functions, and manages banks in receiverships (failed banks). Since the start of FDIC insurance on January 1, 1934, no depositor has lost any insured funds as a result of a bank failure.[11]

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is a U.S. federal agency established by the National Currency Act of 1863 and serves to charter, regulate, and supervise all national banks and the federal branches and agencies of foreign banks in the United States. Thomas J. Curry was sworn in as the 30th Comptroller of the Currency on April 9, 2012.[12]

Office of Thrift Supervision

The Office of Thrift Supervision is a U.S. federal agency under the Department of the Treasury. It was created in 1989 as a renamed version of another federal agency (that was faulted for its role in the Savings and loan crisis).[3] Like other U.S. federal bank regulators, it is paid by the banks it regulates. On July 21, 2011, the Office of Thrift Supervision became part of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.[3]

Bank mergers and closures

Bank mergers happen for many reasons in normal business, for example, to create a single larger bank in which operations of both banks can be streamlined; to acquire another bank's brands; or due to regulators closing the institution due to unsafe and unsound business practices or inadequate capitalization and liquidity. Banks may not go bankrupt in the United States. Depositor accounts are insured up to $250,000 as of October 2008 per individual per bank by the FDIC. Banks that are in danger of failing are either taken over by the FDIC, administered temporarily, then sold or merged with other banks. The FDIC maintains a list of banks showing institutions seized by regulators and the assuming institutions.

Banking privacy

In the United States, banking privacy and information security is not protected through a singular law nor is it an unalienable right.[3] The regulation of banking privacy is typically undertaken by a sector-by-sector basis.[3] The most prominent federal law governing banking privacy in the U.S. is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB).[3] This regulates the disclosure, collection, and use of non-public information by banking institutions.[3] Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) serves as the primary protector of banking privacy by fining violators of federal and state banking privacy laws.[3] Unlike banking in Switzerland or other European countries, violations of banking privacy are usually a civil offense not a criminal one.[3] However, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers numerous banking privacy provisions within its statutes.[13][14]

List of banks

According to the FDIC, there were 6,799 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States as of February 11, 2014.[10] Every member of the Federal Reserve System is listed along with non-members who are also insured by the FDIC. The five largest banks by assets in 2011 were JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs.[15]

See also


  1. Gordon, John Steele (October 8, 2008). "A Short Banking History of the United States". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  2. Hightower, Michael (2011). Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood. University of Oklahoma Press. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  3. Sotto (2014), p. 191
  4. Financial Services Agency (PDF). Government of Japan Financial Services Agency. September 1, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  5. "Born of a panic: Forming the Federal Reserve System". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. August 1, 1988. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  6. Rothbard, Murray (2002). A History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II (PDF). Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-945466-33-1. Retrieved February 20, 2014. Just before the founding of the Federal Reserve, the nation was plagued with financial crises. At times, these crises led to 'panics', in which people raced to their banks to withdraw their deposits. A particularly severe panic in 1907 resulted in bank runs that wreaked havoc on the fragile banking system and ultimately led Congress in 1913 to write the Federal Reserve Act. Initially created to address these banking panics, the Federal Reserve is now charged with a number of broader responsibilities, including fostering a sound banking system and a healthy economy.
  7. Rothbard, Murray. A History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II. It was founded by Congress in 1913 to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. Over the years, its role in banking and the economy has expanded.
  8. Patrick, Sue C. (1993). Reform of the Federal Reserve System in the Early 1930s: The Politics of Money and Banking. Garland Press. ISBN 978-0-8153-0970-3.
  9. "Mission". Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. November 6, 2009. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  10. "Institution Directory". FDIC. February 11, 2014. Archived from the original on November 13, 2011. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  11. "FDIC: Who is the FDIC?". FDIC. January 18, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  12. "OCC: About the OCC". Department of the Treasury. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  13. "Customer Information Protection". Retrieved July 22, 2018. Protection of financial and personal customer information is a key responsibility and obligation of FINRA member firms. Under the SEC’s Regulation S-P, firms are required to have policies and procedures addressing the protection of customer information and records. This includes protecting against any anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of customer records and information and against unauthorized access to or use of customer records or information. The rule also requires firms to provide initial and annual privacy notices to customers describing information sharing policies and informing customers of their rights.
  14. "Protecting Personal Confidential Information". Retrieved July 22, 2018. Except for arbitration awards, which are publicly available, the documents and information in FINRA Dispute Resolution case files are confidential. FINRA Dispute Resolution limits access to personal confidential information to FINRA staff members who need it to perform their job functions, and to arbitrators, mediators, or other individuals involved directly in the arbitration or mediation process. Examples of personal confidential information include:
  15. Lynch, David J. (April 19, 2012). "Big Banks: Now Even Too Bigger to Fail". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved February 20, 2014.


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