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On the uniqueness of community banks


  • Scott E. Hein
  • Timothy W. Koch
  • Steven Scott MacDonald


To the public, all banks seem alike. But banking insiders make important distinctions between community banks and all other banks. Policymakers worry that community banks’ unique characteristics threaten their survival in the face of industry consolidation. However, despite dramatic regulatory and technological changes in the industry in the past two decades, community banks have not only survived but often prospered. ; This article explores the differences between community banks and larger banks to discover what makes community banks unique. Large banks engage primarily in transactional banking—the provision of highly standardized intermediation services, such as gathering deposits and extending loans, that require little human input to manage. Community banks, in contrast, typically focus on relationship banking, which requires more human input, more detailed credit evaluation, and localized decision making. ; Examining profit and risk measures for the 1998–2002 period for both community banks and large banking organizations, the authors find evidence that small banks were generally profitable. In all but the smallest size category, community banks have performed as well as, and often better than, large banks in managing net interest margins, aggregate profits, and credit risk. Also, community banks are more likely to adopt Subchapter S tax status, which allows them to avoid direct federal income taxation and pass tax benefits on to shareholders. These institutions typically have relatively higher returns on both equity and assets than larger banks do. Whether community banks will be able to sustain this good performance will depend, the authors conclude, on how well managers find valuable relationship lending niches, invest bank capital, and balance asset quality with growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott E. Hein & Timothy W. Koch & Steven Scott MacDonald, 2005. "On the uniqueness of community banks," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, issue Q 1, pages 15-36.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedaer:y:2005:i:q1:p:15-36:n:v.90no.1

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    Cited by:

    1. Lucas Mataba & Jehovaness Aikaeli, 2016. "Empirical Analysis of Efficiency of Community Banks in Tanzania," International Journal of Economics and Finance, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 8(12), pages 77-94, December.
    2. repec:spr:intemj:v:13:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11365-016-0432-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. R. Alton Gilbert & David C. Wheelock, 2007. "Measuring commercial bank profitability: proceed with caution," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Nov, pages 515-532.
    4. Dean F. Amel & Robin A. Prager, 2016. "Community Bank Performance: How Important are Managers?," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 48(2), pages 149-180, March.
    5. Robin A. Prager & John D. Wolken, 2008. "The evolving relationship between community banks and small businesses: evidence from the Surveys of Small Business Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-60, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Christian Weller, 2009. "Credit Access, the Costs of Credit and Credit Market Discrimination," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 7-28, March.
    7. Jeffrey E. Stambaugh & John Martinez & G. T. Lumpkin & Niyati Kataria, 0. "How well do EO measures and entrepreneurial behavior match?," International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, Springer, vol. 0, pages 1-21.
    8. Tammy Rogers, 2012. "Bank market structure and entrepreneurship," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 39(4), pages 909-920, November.
    9. Albert DePrince & William Ford & Pamela Morris, 2011. "Some causes of interstate differences in community bank performance," Journal of Economics and Finance, Springer;Academy of Economics and Finance, vol. 35(1), pages 22-40, January.
    10. Castelli, Annalisa & Dwyer, Gerald P. & Hasan, Iftekhar, 2009. "Bank relationships and firms' financial performance : the Italian experience," Research Discussion Papers 36/2009, Bank of Finland.
    11. Hamid Mehran & Michael Suher, 2009. "The impact of tax law changes on bank dividend policy, sell-offs, organizational form, and industry structure," Staff Reports 369, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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