Bank Deregulation: Friend or Foe?

Banking has changed a lot during my lifetime—for the better. The changes are partly due to technology (ATMs, online access), but also to deregulation that subjected banks to a lot more competition. What were the major deregulatory moves and how might they have contributed to the recent crisis? Before addressing those questions, a little personal history.

I got interested in money and banking at a very young age. My mother often took me along on shopping trips, explaining what money was, why we needed it in stores, and how my father got it for us. Trips to the bank were a special treat. The Cleveland Trust branch near us was an imposing affair, with a limestone façade, high ceilings, and tellers ensconced behind ornate barred windows. The architecture was intended to instill confidence, but to me it was just a magic place.

Later, my sixth-grade class operated a student branch of another bank, the Society for Savings. Twice a month our classroom was rearranged like a bank branch. Tellers (all boys, as I recall) would accept student deposits of a dime, a quarter, or sometimes a whole dollar. Assistant tellers (girls) would write the amount of the deposit in the student’s passbook, while the boys handled the cash. After closing we tallied the deposits and packed the loot—perhaps $50—into a canvas bag, and a privileged student would trundle it off to the principal’s office under the watchful eyes of two “guards.” What great lessons we learned: thrift, honesty, attention to detail!

By the time I was 14 I was earning good money shoveling snow, raking leaves, and mowing lawns. I had become something of a saving fanatic. I soon found out that the local savings and loan (S&L) offered higher interest than commercial banks, so I opened an account there. Savings passbooks seem quaint in hindsight, but mine was a treasured possession, a tangible reminder of my growing nest egg. Continue reading