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The Making of the “Big Four” Banking Oligopoly in One Chart



The Banking Oligopoly in One Chart

The Banking Oligopoly in One Chart

The “Big Four” retail banks in the United States collectively hold 45% of all customer bank deposits for a total of $4.6 trillion.

The fifth biggest retail bank, U.S. Bancorp, is nothing to sneeze at, either. It’s got 3,151 banking offices and employs 65,000 people. However, it still pales in comparison with the Big Four, holding only a mere $271 billion in deposits.

Today’s visualization looks at consolidation in the banking industry over the course of two decades. Between 1990 and 2010, eventually 37 banks would become JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup.

Of particular importance to note is the frequency of consolidation during the 2008 Financial Crisis, when the Big Four were able to gobble up weaker competitors that were overexposed to subprime mortgages. Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns, Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, and Wachovia were all acquired during this time under great duress.

The Big Four is not likely to be challenged anytime soon. In fact, the Federal Reserve has noted in a 2014 paper that the number of new bank charters has basically dropped to zero.

New bank charters

From 2009 to 2013, only seven new banks were formed.

“This dramatic reduction in new bank charters could be a concern for policymakers, if as some suggest, the decline has been caused by increased regulatory burden imposed in response to the financial crisis,” the authors of the Federal Reserve paper write.

Competition from small banks has dried up as a result. A study by George Mason University found that over the last 15 years, the amount of small banks in the country has decreased by -28%.

Number of large vs. small banks over 15 years

Big banks, on the other hand, are doing relatively quite well. There are now 33% more big banks today than there were in 2000.

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Visualizing California’s GDP Compared to Countries

California’s GDP makes the state one of the most powerful economies in the world. This graphic compares it to the GDP of 10 select countries.



How California's GDP exceeds ten select countries

How California's GDP exceeds ten select countries

California’s GDP Compared to Countries

Comedian Trevor Noah once said America is fifty little countries masquerading as one.

From an economic sense, this might carry some truth. When looking at the economic output of each state, especially the largest and wealthiest ones, they often compare to or even exceed the GDPs of entire nations.

To illustrate, this visual from StatsPanda looks at California’s $3.36 trillion GDP using data from The World Bank and compares it to 10 sizable country economies. Let’s take a closer look.

Sizing Up California’s GDP in 2021

California’s $3+ trillion GDP is an enormous figure in its own right, so it’s no surprise that it is larger than certain nations’ economic output.

But even when comparing with economies like Malaysia, Colombia, and Finland, all among the top 50 countries by GDP, California stands tall.

CountryGDP (2021 USD)
🇲🇾 Malaysia$372B
🇭🇰 Hong Kong$369B
🇻🇳 Vietnam$366B
🇮🇷 Iran$359B
🇵🇰 Pakistan$348B
🇨🇱 Chile$317B
🇨🇴 Colombia$314B
🇫🇮 Finland$297B
🇷🇴 Romania$284B
🇨🇿 Czechia$281B

What’s more, these 10 countries are quite densely populated, with a combined population of 653 million compared to California’s 39 million total.

A Closer Look At California’s Economy

What makes California’s GDP so vast and their economy so powerful?

Relative population is a big factor, as the state is the most populous in the U.S. with roughly 12% of the country’s population calling it home. But since California’s GDP makes up over 15% of the country’s economic output, there must be something else at work.

One key driver is the technology sector. Not only does Silicon Valley generate massive amounts of technological output, this also translates directly to wealth and economic activity. Many tech markets follow winner-take-all dynamics, bringing large revenues back to the state. In addition, smaller technology companies are frequently gobbled up by larger competitors, adding wealth back into the mix through M&A.

This might partly explain why California’s GDP is actually estimated to overtake Germany’s in the coming years and become the world’s 4th largest economy.

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