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Banks and Banking

Categories Of Banks, Types Of Banks, Bank Financial Structure, Bank Officials, Bank Duties

Authorized financial institutions and the business in which they engage, which encompasses the receipt of money for deposit, to be payable according to the terms of the account; collection of checks presented for payment; issuance of loans to individuals who meet certain requirements; discount of COMMERCIAL PAPER; and other money-related functions.

Banks have existed since the founding of the United States, and their operation has been shaped and refined by major events in U.S. history. Banking was a rocky and fickle enterprise, with periods of economic fortune and peril, between the 1830s and the early twentieth century. In the late nineteenth century, the restrained money policies of the U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT, namely an unwillingness to issue more bank notes to eastern-based national banks, contributed to a scarcity of cash in many Midwestern states. A few states went so far as to charter local banks and authorize them to print their own money. The collateral or capital that backed these local banks was often of only nominal value. By the 1890s, there was a full-fledged bank panic. Depositors rushed to banks to withdraw their money, only to find in many cases that the banks did not have the money on hand. This experience prompted insurance reforms that developed during the next fifty years. The lack of a regulated money supply led to the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 (found in scattered sections of 12 U.S.C.A.), creating the Federal Reserve Bank System.

Even as the banks sometimes suffered, there were stories of economic gain and wealth made through their operation. Industrial enterprises were sweeping the country, and their need for financing was seized upon by men like J.P. Morgan (1837–1913). Morgan made his fortune as a banker and financier of various projects. His House of Morgan was one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world. Morgan's holdings and interests included railroads, coal, steel, and steamships. His involvement in what we now consider commercial banking and SECURITIES would later raise concern over the appropriateness of mixing these two industries, especially after the STOCK MARKET crash of 1929 and the ensuing instability in banking. Between 1929 and 1933, thousands of banks failed. By 1933, President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT temporarily closed all U.S. banks because of a widespread lack of confidence in the institutions. These events played a major role in the Great Depression and in the future reform of banking.

In 1933, Congress held hearings on the commingling of the banking and securities industries. Out of these hearings, a reform act that strictly separated commercial banking from securities banking was created (12U.S.C.A. §§ 347a, 347b, 412). The act became known as the GLASS-STEAGALL ACT, after the two senators who sponsored it, CARTER GLASS (DVA) and Henry B. Steagall (D-AL). The Glass-Steagall Act also created the FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION (FDIC), which insures money deposited at member banks against loss. Since its passage, Glass-Steagall has been the law of the land, with minor fine-tuning on several occasions.

Despite the Glass-Steagall reforms, periods of instability have continued to reappear in the banking industry. Between 1982 and 1987, about 600 banks failed in the United States. Over one-third of the closures occurred in Texas. Many of the failed banks closed permanently, with their customers' deposits compensated by the FDIC; others were taken over by the FDIC and reorganized and eventually reopened.

In 1999, Congress addressed many concerns on many involved in the financial industries with the passage of the Financial Services Modernization Act, Pub. L. No. 106-102, 113 Stat. 1338, also known as the Gramm-Leach Act. The act rewrote the banking laws from the 1930s and 1950s, including the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prevented commercial banks, securities firms, and insurance companies from merging their businesses. Under the act, banks, brokers, and insurance companies are able to combine and share consumer transaction records as well as other sensitive records. The act went into effect on November 12, 2000, though several of its provisions did not take effect until July 1,2001. Seven federal agencies were responsible for rewriting regulations that implemented the new law.

Between 1929 and 1933, thousands of banks failed. In this image, a crowd gathers before the United States National Bank in Los Angeles one day after its closing on August 23, 1931.

Gramm-Leach goes beyond the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and similar laws. One section streamlines the supervision of banks. It directs the FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD to accept existing reports that a bank has filed with other federal and state regulators, thus reducing time and expenses for the bank. Moreover, the Federal Reserve Board may examine the insurance and brokerage subsidiaries of a bank only if reasonable cause exists to believe the subsidiary is engaged in activities posing a material risk to bank depositors. The new law contains many more similar provisions that restrict the ability of the Federal Reserve Board to regulate the new type of bank that the law contemplates. The Gramm-Leach Act also breaks down barriers of foreign banks wishing to operate in the United States by allowing foreign banks to purchase U.S. banks.

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