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Carl White

Digital Banking: A Look at the Playing Field

There is more competition than ever in the provision of banking services, and financial technology (fintech) developments have turbocharged this trend. Traditional commercial banks, thrifts and credit unions are vying with fintech firms and other enterprises for customers or are pairing up with these new competitors to widen offerings, improve speed of service and take advantage of new technologies. Some of these nontraditional providers are specializing in one product or service, or are targeting a very narrow customer base. A number of them are obtaining bank charters, while others are seeking alternative charters.

12/31/2020 Read more about Digital Banking: A Look at the Playing Field

Proud. Overwhelmed. Frustrated.

These sentiments and others expressed by bankers come from the 2020 National Survey of Community Banks, conducted annually by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and state banking regulators for the past seven years. The survey is released each year during the annual Community Banking in the 21st Century research and policy conference; the event is sponsored by the Federal Reserve, the CSBS and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In this year’s survey, the effects of COVID-19 dominated and colored typical industry concerns related to regulatory burden, small business lending, industry consolidation, competition and technological innovation.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a federal law that requires federally insured banks to meet the credit needs of people in their communities while meeting safety and soundness standards. At the time of its 1977 passage, lawmakers were concerned about unequal access to credit and policies such as redlining, especially in low-and moderate-income communities. Bank regulators were given the task of writing, implementing and enforcing regulations to ensure banks were meeting the goals of the law.

CRA regulations were last updated in 1995, and much has changed in the banking industry in the last 25 years. Technological change—especially the move to online and mobile banking—means that a CRA focused solely on activity in brick-and-mortar branches will miss a large swath of banking activity as an increasing number of banks begin to operate online.

The recession that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic has hit most sectors of the U.S. economy hard, and commercial banks are no exception. Through the first half of 2020, profits sharply declined from their year-ago levels as banks worked with loan customers through deferrals and modifications, new loan demand fell, and banks set aside more funds for anticipated losses.

Those trends were true of both community banks and their larger counterparts to varying degrees within the District and nationally.

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