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primarily the business of dealing in money and instruments of credit. Banks were traditionally differentiated from other financial institutions by their principal functions of accepting deposits—subject to withdrawal or transfer by check—and of making loans.

Types of Banks

Banks have traditionally been distinguished according to their primary functions. Commercial banks, which include national- and state-chartered banks, trust companies, stock savings banks, and industrial banks, have traditionally rendered a wide range of services in addition to their primary functions of making loans and investments and handling demand as well as savings and other time deposits. Mutual savings bankssavings bank,
financial institution that, until recently, performed only the following functions: receiving savings deposits of individuals, investing them, and providing a modest return to its depositors in the form of interest.
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, until recently, accepted only savings and other time deposits, and offered limited types of loans and services. The fact that commercial banks were able to expand or contract their loans and investments in accordance with changes in reserves and reserve requirements further differentiated them from mutual savings banks, where the volume of loans and investments was governed by changes in customers' deposits. Membership in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is compulsory for all Federal Reserve member banks but optional for other banks.

Other Financial Institutions

Types of financial institutions that have not traditionally been subject to the supervision of state or federal banking authorities but that perform one or more of the traditional banking functions are savings and loan associationssavings and loan association
(S&L), type of financial institution that was originally created to accept savings from private investors and to provide home mortgage services for the public.

The first U.S. S&L was founded in 1831.
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, mortgage companies, finance companies, insurance companies, credit agencies owned in whole or in part by the federal government, credit unions, brokers and dealers in securities, and investment bankers. Savings and loan associations, which are state institutions, provide home-building loans to their members out of funds obtained from savings deposits and from the sale of shares to members. Finance companies make small loans with funds obtained from invested capital, surplus, and borrowings. Credit unionscredit union,
cooperative, not-for-profit financial institution that makes low-interest personal loans to its members. It is usually composed of persons from the same occupational group or the same local community or institution.
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, which are institutions owned cooperatively by groups of persons having a common business, fraternal, or other interest, make small loans to their members out of funds derived from the sale of shares to members. The primary functions of investment bankers are to act as advisers to governments and corporations seeking to raise funds, and to act as intermediaries between these issuers of securities, on the one hand, and institutional and individual investors, on the other.

International Banks

The International Bank for Reconstruction and DevelopmentInternational Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
(IBRD), independent specialized agency of the United Nations, with headquarters at Washington, D.C.; one of five closely associated development institutions (also including the International Center for Settlement of
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 (World Bank) was organized (1945) to make loans both to governments and to private investors. The discharge of debts between nations has been simplified and facilitated through the International Monetary FundInternational Monetary Fund
(IMF), specialized agency of the United Nations, established in 1945. It was planned at the Bretton Woods Conference (1944), and its headquarters are in Washington, D.C.
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 (IMF), which also provides members with technical assistance in international banking. The former European Monetary AgreementEuropean Monetary Agreement
(EMA), international governmental facility (1958–72) for the settlement of balance of payments accounts between member states. The EMA, which was administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), replaced the
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 also made possible the rapid discharge of debts and balance of paymentsbalance of payments,
balance between all payments out of a country within a given period and all payments into the country, an outgrowth of the mercantilist theory of balance of trade.
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 obligations between nations. The European Central Bank (see European Monetary SystemEuropean Monetary System,
arrangement by which most nations of the European Union (EU) linked their currencies to prevent large fluctuations relative to one another. It was organized in 1979 to stabilize foreign exchange and counter inflation among members.
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) was established in 1998 to help formulate the joint monetary policy of those European Union nations adopting a single currency.

General History

A simple form of banking was practiced by the ancient temples of Egypt, Babylonia, and Greece, which loaned at high rates of interest the gold and silver deposited for safekeeping. Private banking existed by 600 B.C. and was considerably developed by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. Medieval banking was dominated by the Jews and Levantines because of the strictures of the Christian Church against interestinterest,
charge for the use of credit or money, usually figured as a percentage of the principal and computed annually. Simple interest is computed annually on the principal.
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 and because many other occupations were largely closed to Jews. The forerunners of modern banks were frequently chartered for a specific purpose, e.g., the Bank of Venice (1171) and the Bank of EnglandBank of England,
central bank and note-issuing institution of Great Britain. Popularly known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, its main office stands on the street of that name in London. The bank has eight branches, all of which are located in the British Isles.
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 (1694), in connection with loans to the government; the Bank of Amsterdam (1609), to receive deposits of gold and silver. Banking developed rapidly throughout the 18th and 19th cent., accompanying the expansion of industry and trade, with each nation evolving the distinctive forms peculiar to its economic and social life.

History in the United States

Early Years to the Federal Reserve

In the United States the first bank was the Bank of North America, established (1781) in Philadelphia. Congress chartered the first Bank of the United StatesBank of the United States,
name for two national banks established by the U.S. Congress to serve as government fiscal agents and as depositories for federal funds; the first bank was in existence from 1791 to 1811 and the second from 1816 to 1836.
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 in 1791 to engage in general commercial banking and to act as the fiscal agent of the government, but did not renew its charter in 1811. A similar fate befell the second Bank of the United States, chartered in 1816 and closed in 1836.

Prior to 1838 a bank charter could be obtained only by a specific legislative act, but in that year New York adopted the Free Banking Act, which permitted anyone to engage in banking, upon compliance with certain charter conditions. Free banking spread rapidly to other states, and from 1840 to 1863 all banking business was done by state-chartered institutions. In many Western states it degenerated into "wildcat" banking because of the laxity and abuse of state laws. Bank notes were issued against little or no security, and credit was overexpanded; depressions brought waves of bank failures. In particular, the multiplicity of state bank notes caused great confusion and loss. To correct such conditions, Congress passed (1863) the National Bank Act, which provided for a system of banks to be chartered by the federal government.

In 1865, by granting national banks the authority to issue bank notes and by placing a prohibitive tax on state bank notes, an amendment to the act brought all banks under federal supervision. Most banks in existence did take out national charters, but some, being banks of deposit, were unaffected by the tax and continued under their state charters, thus giving rise to what is generally known as the "dual banking system." The number of state banks expanded rapidly with the increasing use of bank checks.

Recurrent banking panics caused by overexpansion of credit, inadequate bank reserves, and inelastic currency prompted Congress in 1908 to create the National Monetary Commission to investigate the banking and currency fields and to recommend legislation. Its suggestions were embodied in the Federal Reserve Act (1913), which provided for a central banking organization, the Federal Reserve SystemFederal Reserve System,
central banking system of the United States. Established in 1913, it began to operate in Nov., 1914. Its setup, although somewhat altered since its establishment, particularly by the Banking Act of 1935, has remained substantially the same.
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 (see also central bankcentral bank,
financial institution designed to regulate and control the money supply of a nation, with the goal of fostering economic growth without inflation. Although central banking systems have varying levels of autonomy, there is generally a significant level of government
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Further Legislation

Since the establishment of the Federal Reserve system, federal banking legislation has been limited largely to detailed amendments to the National Bank and Federal Reserve acts. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1932 and the Banking Act of 1933 together formed an extensive reform measure designed to correct the abuses that had led to numerous bank crises in the years following the stock market crash of 1929. The Glass-Steagall Act prohibited commercial banks from involvement in the securities and insuranceinsurance
or assurance,
device for indemnifying or guaranteeing an individual against loss. Reimbursement is made from a fund to which many individuals exposed to the same risk have contributed certain specified amounts, called premiums.
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 businesses. The Banking Act strengthened the powers of supervisory authorities, increased controls over the volume and use of credit, and provided for the insurance of bank deposits under the Federal Deposit Insurance CorporationFederal Deposit Insurance Corporation
(FDIC), an independent U.S. federal executive agency designed to promote public confidence in banks and to provide insurance coverage for bank deposits up to $250,000.
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 (FDIC). The Banking Act of 1935 strengthened the powers of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in the field of credit management, tightened existing restrictions on banks engaging in certain activities, and enlarged the supervisory powers of the FDIC.

Deregulation, Bank Failures, and New Technology

Several deregulatory moves made by the federal government in the 1980s diminished the distinctions among various financial institutions in the United States. Two major changes were the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (1980) and the Depository Institutions Act (1982), which allowed savings and loan associations to engage in often-risky commercial loans and real estate investments, and to receive checking deposits. By 1984, banks had federal support in buying discount brokerage firms, and commercial banks were beginning to acquire failed savings banks; in 1985 interstate banking was declared constitutional.

Such deregulation was blamed for the unprecedented number of bank failures among savings and loan associationssavings and loan association
(S&L), type of financial institution that was originally created to accept savings from private investors and to provide home mortgage services for the public.

The first U.S. S&L was founded in 1831.
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, with over 500 such institutions closing between 1980 and 1988. The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), until it became insolvent in 1989, insured deposits in all federally chartered—and in many state-chartered—savings and loan associations. Its outstanding insurance obligations in connection with savings and loan failures, over $100 billion, were transferred (1989) to the FDIC.

Further deregulation occurred in 1999, when Congress overhauled the entire U.S. financial system. Among other actions, the legislation repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, thus allowing banks to enter the insurance and securities businesses. Supporters predicted that the measure would permit U.S. banks to diversify and compete more effectively on an international scale. Opponents warned that this deregulation could lead to failures of many financial institutions, as had occurred with the savings and loans, and many blamed banking deregulation for the financial crisis that began in 2007. Extensive government intervention was required to maintain financial stability, and the crisis nonetheless resulted in an increase in failed and troubled banks, with the number of troubled banks higher than it had been in 15 years by 2009.

In the last decades of the 20th cent., computer technology transformed the banking industry. The wide distribution of automated teller machinesautomated teller machine
(ATM), device used by bank customers to process account transactions. Typically, a user inserts into the ATM a special plastic card that is encoded with information on a magnetic strip or computer chip.
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 (ATMs) by the mid-1980s gave customers 24-hour access to cash and account information. On-line banking through the InternetInternet, the,
international computer network linking together thousands of individual networks at military and government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, industrial and financial corporations of all sizes, and commercial enterprises (called gateways
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 and banking through automated phone systems and smartphone apps now allow for electronic payment of bills, the depositing of some checks, money transfers, loan applications, and the like without entering a bank branch.


See L. Schweikart, ed., Banking and Finance, 1913–1989 (1990); C. J. Woelfel, ed., Encyclopedia of Banking and Finance (10th 1994); C. W. Calomiris and S. H. Haber, Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a system of earthen barrier embankments (levees) erected along the shores of rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and seas to protect adjacent areas from intermittent flooding in case of a rise in the water level (high water), and also during high tide and wind-induced water surges. The front of the banking usually consists of a dam (sometimes two rows of dams) situated along the shoreline or around the perimeter of the part of the area to be protected (perimeter banking). Small transverse dams, which divide the protected area into a number of sections, thus localizing the flooding, are built against the possibility of a local rupture of the banking. Steady farming of fertile coastal and floodplain lands (especially along the lower courses of rivers and in river deltas) can only be ensured by the construction of banking.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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