Interstate banking marks time while judges explore the merits
Southeastern states have taken several long strides over the past several weeks toward making regional interstate banking a reality. But as they have done so, it has been with one eye on the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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A case before that court will determine the constitutionality of the regional interstate banking concept. ''And the shoe may drop any day,'' as one lawyer puts it.
At issue is whether regional interstate banking is an unconstitutional restraint of interstate commerce - if states, once they decide to open their doors to out-of-state banks, can pick and choose which states to let in. ''Basically they're trying to avoid dealing with money center banks,'' especially New York banks, says one observer.
Banks in this country are now limited - in theory at least - to one state. In practice, though, we have interstate banking by loophole. ''Money center'' banks - primarily the big ones in New York and Chicago - have commercial loan production offices, ''consumer finance'' (i.e., personal loan) companies, credit-card-by-mail operations, and other banking services across state lines.
And full interstate banking is widely seen as just a matter of time. But many states around the country want to ensure that their own major banks don't get swallowed up by money-center banks when the barriers come down. ''It would be staggering to go national all at once,'' says Robert B. Kay, executive vice-president of the South Carolina Bankers Association.''
So the regional interstate banking concept has caught on. ''The purpose of regional banking is to provide an interim to develop our own regional banks,'' says Ida Roberts, spokeswoman for Southeast Bank in Miami. ''We're the 27th largest bank in the country, but the size disparity between us and Citibank, with $130 billion in assets, is critical.''
By being able to expand across state lines but still within their own regions , banks will be able to mature into true regional banks, able to hold their own against New York banks when they are ultimately allowed in. The regions will get the economic benefit of having banks with a broader deposit base but will not have to worry that all the strings are pulled from New York or Chicago.
Thus, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have passed laws that allow banking across state lines; two interstate mergers - between CBT Corporation of Hartford, Conn., with Bank of New England Corporation of Boston, and Hartford National Corporation with Arltru Bancorporation of Lawrence, Mass. - have been approved by the Federal Reserve Board.
But Citicorp of New York and Northeast Bancorp Inc. of New Haven, Conn., are appealing these approvals. They also are seeking to block the Bank of Boston's proposed acquisition of Colonial Bank of Waterbury, Conn.
Northeast has a merger agreement with the Bank of New York which it cannot implement because Connecticut law excludes New York from its ''region.'' Citicorp and Northeast argue the state laws are an unconstitutional restraint of interstate commerce.
Proponents of the regional banking concept maintain that the Douglas amendments to the Bank Holding Company Act allow states to let out-of-state banks in; the question is whether they may choose which to let in.
''We can find no clear and unequivocal delegation of authority'' to the states on this matter, says Daniel Glassberg, corporate counsel to Northeast Bancorp.