Big Banks Dominate U.S. Banking System: Study

Just 16 banks account for more than half of the assets in the nation's banking system, new data show.

The banks -- all of which have more than $100 billion in assets -- control nearly 56 percent of all assets in the banking system, according to an analysis of fourth quarter Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data by Dennis Santiago, CEO and managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, a California-based consultancy.

The concentration of power among the nation's megabanks is more than double what it was just nine years ago, and has more than tripled since 1995.

The consolidation among banks and the growth of the big ones is of particular concern to policymakers and economists who are pushing to fundamentally reform the nation's broken financial system. Leading voices like Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas M. Hoenig and U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) want to bust up the megabanks, arguing that the firms played a big role in causing a near-meltdown of the financial system and the subsequent Great Recession. The firms benefit from their size by being implicitly -- if not explicitly -- backed by the U.S. government, giving them a huge advantage over traditional Main Street banks, which harbor no illusions about U.S. taxpayers possibly bailing them out.

The prospect of potential bailouts has allowed these firms to enjoy lower borrowing costs, allowing them to grab more market share and get bigger. In 2008, the firms were all bailed out by taxpayers. Meanwhile, small banks are failing at the fastest rate since the early 1990s.

In 1999, there were eight banks with more than $100 billion in assets, Santiago's analysis shows. They had a combined $2.5 trillion in assets. As of Dec. 31, 2009, there were 16 banks with more than $100 billion in assets. Together, they have about $8 trillion in assets.

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