Quarterly Review 1831

Are Banks Dead? Or Are the Reports Greatly Exaggerated?

John H. Boyd
Mark Gertler

Summer 1994

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.

Download Paper (PDF)