Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Change Embroiled Banking in '80s

It's the eve of the `90s. Do you know which bank you're with? Many people lost track during the 1980s as banks seemed to change partners more often than swingers at a New Year's Eve party.
Deregulation of the financial services industry and the elimination of many interstate banking barriers touched off an explosion of mergers and acquisitions that changed the face of banking.
Many small banks disappeared or were gobbled up by larger ones. And a new term was coined, the superregional bank, to describe the big banking companies that crossed state lines to expand their business.
Rhode Island's representative among the giants started the decade as Industrial National Bank, later changed its name to Fleet Financial and then took over banks in Maine and Connecticut.
Fleet took its boldest step in 1988 when it merged with Norstar Bancorp., in New York, to form Fleet/Norstar Financial Group. By the end of the decade it had grown into the country's 19th largest banking company.
"Who could have ever forecast the changes of the last decade?" asked Herbert W. Cummings, president of Citizens Bank.
"Who could have foreseen that the world would change as rapidly as it did."
His bank, like many other mutual savings banks in New England, took advantage of the bullish market and investors' interest in bank stocks in the mid-1980s and converted to public ownership.
Later, Citizens said it needed a bigger partner with deeper pockets to compete and sold out to the Royal Bank of Scotland, the first foreign owner of a southern New England bank. Citizens started the decade as a small, local bank and ended the `80s as the American arm of a global, $45.3 billion financial services company.
The catalyst for all the change was deregulation of the financial services industry, a move that gave banking companies more powers to compete toe to toe in a more wideopen market.
The "New England Compact" allowed banks in the six-state region to cross lines to acquire other banks. And nationwide, the removal of the cap that financial institutions could pay on interest rates set off a scramble for depositors' money.
The changed rules of the game squeezed profit margins between what banks paid out for deposits and what they took in from loans. And in the new competition in New England's already-crowded market, many banks either took over others or were taken over themselves.
Rhode Island Hospital Trust National Bank first acquired Columbus National Bank, then was taken over by Bank of Boston Corp., the largest banking company in New England.
Old Colony/Newport National became part of Bank of New England Corp. and People's Bank became the Rhode Island affiliate of Shawmut National Corp.
The new competition also unleashed a blizzard of new products as the banking companies fought for market share. Consumers were deluged with offers for certificates of deposits, checking accounts, money market accounts, student loans, and equity loans among others.
And the ubiquitous ATM joined the lexicon to describe the machines that spit out money when you inserted a plastic card.
Banks installed automatic teller machines to cut overhead on personnel and make banking services available 24 hours a day to meet the changing lifestyles of busy consumers.
One product battle the big banks lost was breaking down the barrier of the 54-year-old Glass-Steagall Act to allow them to underwrite securities, sell insurance and better compete with other financial services companies and the big foreign banks. Although beaten back by Congress several times, the big banks readied to break through in the 1990s.
While many banks got bigger, the small banks that survived tried to slice out a niche in the market for themselves by selling personal service they said was lost when the big banks lost touch with their communities.

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