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Community Banking: The missing link in America’s economy

Community Banking: The missing link in America’s economy | 24/12/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

The missing link in America’s economy is community banking, but no one wants to admit it.

America’s banking sector operates in much the same way that many corporations do — they charge fees in order to make profit. And while that makes the banks rich, that paradigm doesn’t necessarily contribute to making individuals, towns, cities, corporations or other organizations that do business with banks, any wealthier.

And that results in ‘lost opportunity’ for the American economy.

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building, Washington, DC.

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C. Designed by architect Paul Philippe Cret in 1935, construction of the Art Deco building was completed in 1937. Image courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid

How banks presently operate in America

Banks operate on the ‘Catch as Catch Can’ system where consumers of financial services are captured by the banks (through advertising) and various banking fees and charges conspire to (in effect) drain money from account-holders, while the banks accrue huge profits.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong with corporations making a profit, the present banking paradigm doesn’t help the macro-economy (as well as it could) because it simply wasn’t designed to do that.

How can Community (Zip Code) Banking help the macro-economy?

What the U.S. needs is a ‘zip code’ banking system whereby a bank purchases the right to conduct banking operations within a certain zip code on a yearly basis. By regulation, other banks would be excluded from operating within that zip code.

Hence, the bank which has purchased the rights to that zip code would have a captive audience.

A New Relationship Between Banks and Citizens

Therefore, the present consumer/corporation relationship that the banks have with consumers would be replaced with a new and symbiotic relationship.

Bankers are smart people, and they would soon recognize that working to ensure the financial success of each person within that zip code dramatically improves their bottom line

That’s a new normal that would work for everyone and work wonders for the macro-economy.

The Logistics of Community Banking

Let’s say that U.S. Bank wants to set up shop in zip codes 90210 through 90280. And, let’s imagine that the combined population of those zip codes is one million people (it isn’t, but let’s just say that it is)

Suddenly the financial success of every single one of those people becomes a matter of importance for U.S. Bank — for the simple reason that the more those people prosper, the more U.S. Bank will profit.

Having paid one dollar (per head/per year) for the privilege of being allowed to sell financial services within those zip codes (amounting to one million dollars paid by U.S. Bank to the Fed every year for 90210-90280) the bank would be thereby motivated to ensure the financial stability and financial success of every one of those people.

Of course, if 4 other banks want to compete within the same space (90210 through 90280) they should be encouraged to do so. (In that case, the Fed is getting paid $5 million dollars per year instead of $1 million dollars per year for that group of zip codes with its 1 million residents) The Fed can always use the money.

But it isn’t about that.

It’s about a new relationship between banks and banking customers. It’s about a new paradigm, where instead of being ‘takers’ of consumers money, banks would play a central role in the macro-economy by partnering with communities — one where it is in the bank’s best interests to ensure that everyone within their zip code is progressing financially at best possible speed.

For the first time ever banks would be partners with customers — instead of monolithic banking corporations trying to make a buck from them.

Going back to the example, if more than one bank wants to purchase rights to operate within those same zip codes, they should be encouraged to do so. A little competition is a fine thing.

At a certain point however, a saturation point would be reached and banks would cease applying to the Fed in order to compete within those particular zip codes.

But if 5 banks want to compete (assuming one million potential customers is a big enough market to support 5 banks) and they apply to the Fed and pay the $1 per head/per year for the privilege — that works for consumers, it works for the Fed, and it works for the macro-economy.

From the Fed point of view

As of 2014, there are over 40,000 zip codes in America. The United States has a total population of 317 million and there are more than 80 million businesses operating within the U.S.A. Every one of them needs a bank.

If the Fed is receiving $1 per head/per year from one bank wanting to operate in every zip code across the U.S.A., that totals $317 million for the Fed per year.

If two banks want to operate across the U.S.A., that totals $634 million per year for the Fed. If four banks want to operate nationally, that equals $1.268 billion per year for the Fed.

Obviously, some banks may not want to operate nationally, only setting up shop in the Northeast U.S. for example, or only the zip codes within 50 miles of downtown Los Angeles, CA. Some banks may wish to operate exclusively within urban zip codes, while others may specialize in rural banking only. That’s fine too.

“Are you a foreign bank? In which zip codes would you like to operate? Yes, that will be one dollar per head/per year.”

Clearly, the Fed could be raking in triple-digit billions of dollars per year selling the rights to domestic and foreign banks wanting to operate within some or all zip codes in the country. Nice.

Selling permits to banks would bring the Fed plenty of money, allowing it to not only cover its overhead, but to be a net contributor to the banking sector and the overall economy.

But it’s more about aligning the interests of banks with bank customers. It’s about removing the huge ‘lost opportunity’ from the U.S. economy by employing banking policies designed from the get-go to be symbiotic in nature.

Community Banking could thereby stimulate the financial position of individuals, corporations, counties, towns and cities, at the micro-scale — and in so doing, robustly stimulate the macro-scale American economy.

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