If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times

Wriston, Walter B.


Not As Big As You Think


To start with, banking is probably the most fragmented business in the United States. There isn't any single bank in this country that has as much as five percent of the market--the largest single share is about four percent. I don't know of any major industry that fragmented.

I would add that the market share of the ten largest U.S. banks has not grown in the last fifteen years. I don't say it with any particular pride, but fifteen years ago the market share of the ten largest banks in the United States was 20 percent, and at the end of last year it was 19 percent.

Third, in addition to the U.S. banks being extremely fragmented, we now have very substantial competition from foreign banks. While the attention of the U.S. banks has been riveted on our own problems, our friends overseas have been growing much bigger.

I'll give you just a couple of numbers as reference points. In 1964, of the world's 25 largest banks, the first ten were U.S. banks. At the end of 1978 only six of the top 30 were U.S. banks. Japan now has more banks in the top fifty than the U.S. has.

Still another number: in the last ten years the share of total assets of the world's top 50 banks that is held by U.S. banks, has declined from 45 percent to just a little under 25 percent.

To put this competition in aggregate terms, there are 194 foreign banks in the United States, with $62 billion of assets, constituting seven percent of the total U.S. marketplace.

I don't say any of these things to decry the growth of the foreign competition or the decline of the American share. Quite the contrary. I believe that welcoming foreign banks has been salutary and that the customer is best served by active competition.

  • The document was created from a compilation of interviews and question and answer segments with Walter B. Wriston which was later compiled into "If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times" in 1980. The original speech is located in MS134.001.034.00018.
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 Title Page
If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
I: Getting Down to Fundamentals
The Big Cop-out
You Can't Go Bail for Everyone
Risk Is What It's All About
II: Some Basic Ills of the Body Politic
Lincoln Wouldn't Have Made It
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
The Pitfalls of Single-issue Politics
Expect To Get Zapped
The Perils of Legal Pollution
The Injustice of Our Tax System
Those Wonderful People Who Bring You Inflation
Stop the Presses
Silly Premises Lead to Nutty Conclusions
Easier Said Than Done
III: New York, New York
New York City Is Alive And Well
The Road Back
IV: Careers
Rx for Happiness
Good Forward Planning
Dull Job?
A Simple Matter of Survival
Making It at Citibank
What Fast Track?
No Hiding Place
V: Once Around the World Quickly
South Africa
China: A Matter of Timing
The Real Significance of Iran
Iran and the Money Markets
Fashions in Country-criticizing
VI: The Global Financial Scene
The Elusive Eurodollar
De Facto Payments Mechanism
Too Big To Move
The Foreign Exchange Game
They Can't Leave the System
Baskets of Money
Swiss Francs
The Value of a Dollar
Not a Loss Since 1897
A Rational View of LDC Loans
Free Trade Benefits Consumers
The Destructive Costs of Regulation
The Big Rip-off
A Real Entitlement
Can Regulations Prevent Bum Loans?
The Insidious Side of Controls
Competition in Regulation
VIII: The Shape of Things To Come
Not As Big As You Think
What Lobby?
Armageddon Is Late, as Usual
Some Simple Facts about Interest Rates
An Expensive Luxury
How Big Is Big?
What We Did Yesterday Won't Work Tomorrow
A Matter of Semantics
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
Privacy: A Serious Problem
The Unseen Revolution
Things Are Going To Be Different
Take the Handcuffs off Everybody
The Gray Areas of Lending
No Mouse under the Rug
Thank God We Don't Have National Banking
Competition Keeps You Awake
Accounting for Loan Losses
Not a Utility
People Like It
Computer Frauds
Some Final Words on Responsibility
About the Author