Over the past 3 decades, bank mergers have eliminated thousands of locally-owned banks across rural America and consolidated control over 80 percent of national banking assets in the hands of large, metro-headquartered financial institutions—with catastrophic consequences for rural access to credit, economic vitality, and civic wellbeing.
This wave of mergers and consolidation was not inevitable. It occurred because, starting in the late 1980s, the Justice Department and the federal banking agencies adopted a series of policies that all but abandoned antitrust enforcement in banking and freed large financial institutions to consolidate the industry at will.
Fortunately, the Justice Department and some federal banking agencies are now changing gears. On December 17, 2021, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division requested public comments on whether and how it should revise a critical component of those monopoly-friendly policies—its guidelines for bank merger review—to revitalize antitrust enforcement against illegal bank mergers. A couple weeks prior, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had also requested public comments on its role in bank merger review.
These revisions could begin turning the tide of rural decline and deliver significant benefits to rural banks, entrepreneurs, and community development generally. To ensure the revised merger guidelines reflect the concerns of rural communities, Basel PLLC is producing a regulatory comment to explain these harms to DOJ and CFPB and recommend merger-guideline revisions that will protect, in Thurman Arnold’s words, “the purchasing power and economic independence” of rural communities.
We are seeking to work with rural advocacy organizations, community groups, and other stakeholders to secure a broad base of co-signers reflecting a variety of rural interests and perspectives. We also would welcome feedback and input from all stakeholders. If you are interested, please contact Basel Musharbash by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (903) 205-8437.