SunTrust, in eighth place, agreed to buy National Commerce, combined. National City, seventh place, acquired Provident Financial, $128 billion combined. Regions Financial Corp, previously 23rd, moved into the 14th spot by acquiring Union Planters, combined. “Anyone needs to be concerned about consolidation in terms of the safety and soundness of the banking system as well as how it affects consumers,” Bachus said. “Having said that, the degree of consolidation is a relative notion.
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If for instance you compare the banking industry, we don’t have as great a consolidations as in telecommunications, automobiles and even hotels.” “It’s worth keeping track of,” Shelby said. “Some people always advocated we had too many banks. A lot of countries only have a handful of banks, like Canada and some European countries.” “I always thought competition in the marketplace is the best thing we had going and that includes the financial services industry.”
And any job losses? “That’s the natural thing that happens in mergers. And they do this for efficiency,” Shelby said. “Banks are privately owned, and the shareholders will dictate what you do or don’t do.” Even before this year’s consolidations, the nation’s 25 largest banks had increased their share of U.S. assets from 39 percent in 1993 to 58 percent at the end of 2003. In the same time period the number of small banks, those with assets under $1 billion, declined from 12,664 to 8,601.
Birmingham is the only city outside New York that is home to four of the nation’s top 50 banks, although Wachovia will cut that to three with the takeover of SouthTrust. Regions will be the largest bank headquartered in Birmingham, followed by AmSouth and Compass. Those four banks hold 53 percent of the deposits. Three years ago, there were 158 banks headquartered in Alabama. Now there are 151.
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“We’ve seen some consolidations of what would be defined as community banks, and we’ve seen a few out-of-state acquisitions,” said State Banking Commissioner Anthony Humphries. With 105 employees, Humphries’ department is second only to the state banking regulators in New York. Bachus said, “Most folks in Alabama ought to realize that we have one of the strongest banking systems in the country.”