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Are Banks Dead? Or Are the Reports Greatly Exaggerated?

Quarterly Review 1831 | Summer 1994

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Are Banks Dead? Or Are the Reports Greatly Exaggerated?

Abstract

This article reexamines the conventional wisdom that commercial banking is in severe decline. A careful reading of the evidence does not support it. True, on-balance sheet assets held by commercial banks have declined as a share of total intermediary assets. But this measure ignores the substantial growth in banks' off-balance sheet activities, in off-shore lending by foreign banks, and in the size of the financial intermediation sector. Adjusted for these considerations, the bank-assets measure shows no clear evidence of secular decline. Neither does an alternative measure, constructed using data from the national income accounts. At most, banking may have suffered a slight loss of market share lately. But this loss is a temporary response to a series of adverse shocks rather than the start of a permanent decline.