A community bank is not a little big bank

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Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail banks were the parents of the 2008 financial crisis. But one-size-fits-all reform reaction to the crisis by Congress and regulators is turning Main Street banks into collateral damage, as if they were too-small-to-matter. Here’s why anything that unnecessarily burdens community banks should concern every small business owner.

At the end of 2012, there were 7,092 banks insured by FDIC, of which 6,201, or 87%, were community banks with less than $1 billion in assets. Banks are classified by asset size, and the average community bank has just over $200 million in assets. By comparison, two big banks – Citigroup and Wells Fargo – are each the size of all 6,201 community banks combined.

Small business owners don’t care much about a bank’s asset size. But they care very much about certain bank characteristics that manifest uniquely in a community bank as its special sauce – relationship banking. To a small business owner a community bank…

... is locally owned and managed.

... takes into account a business owner’s character when making loan decisions.

... decides small business loans by a local committee, not credit scoring by a computer.

This definition is important because, by definition, all small businesses are undercapitalized. How this translates out on Main Street is that sooner or later, and more often than not, small business owners will need to avail themselves of a community bank’s special sauce. 

According to the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), even though community banks have only 20% of all bank assets, and hold less than 20% of total deposits (FDIC), they make almost 60% of small business loans. This tracks closely with our own research. In a recent online poll we asked small business owners about their banking relationship and 53% told us their primary bank, including for loans, was a community bank.

A recent FDIC study confirmed that community banks serve all Main Streets: Of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S., about 20% are represented only by community banks.

Bank loans are the largest source of growth capital for America’s small businesses, which just happen to create over half of the U.S. economy and employ over half of its workers. Consequently, regulating Main Street banks the same as Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail banks puts in jeopardy America’s small businesses and the economy.

Write this on a rock…Small businesses and community banks are the twin pillars of America’s Main Street economy.

Also by Jim: The Small Bank-Small Business Cascade. 

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Jim Blasingame is one of the world's leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and award-winning host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Small Business Advocate® Show.  In addition to his weekly columns, Jim is the author of two books; Small Business is like a Bunch of Bananas and Three Minutes to Success



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Small Business

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