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Why banks don’t die

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Have you noticed how people talk about disruption more and more, and note the collapse of companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia and Thomas Cook? In fact, there are more companies entering and leaving the stock market lists than ever before, with the average tenancy now under two decades compared to six decades or more in mid-1950s.

A 2015 McKinsey study found that the average corporate life span has been falling for more than half a century by analysing Standard & Poor’s data, which shows a company’s survival was 61 years in 1958, 25 years in 1980, and just 18 years in 2011.

Change is faster, the challenges bigger, the need to adapt greater and the environment far harder than ever before.

This is perhaps best exemplified by a headline that caught my attention a few months ago:

Four Iconic Companies Dropped From the Dow

On August 24, 2020, Salesforce, Amgen and Honeywell were added to the Dow, replacing Exxon-Mobil, Pfizer and Raytheon Technologies.


Even the late, great Jack Welch lived long enough to see his iconic company General Electric fall out of favour.

So sad, but companies are not built to last forever. They come and go with the flavours, tastes and the needs of society.

But this is not true for banks.

Banks last forever.

This is well illustrated by a comment from challenger bank Varo, who are seeking a national bank charter in America.

Varo is betting that looking more like a traditional bank will pay off in the long term. “It’s really the only long-term sustainable route if you want to be around 50 to 100 years from now,” said Colin Walsh, chief executive of Varo.

It's that old nugget around you need to be a bank to do banking and, to be a bank, you need a license. That license is your trust. Without that license, you cannot be a bank and, to get a license, means you must be strong and stable ... and around for 100 years therefore.

When I look at the biggest banks in most countries, they’ve been a big bank in that country for a very long time. Some banks have been around for over half a millennia (Monte Paschi di Siena) and Britain’s oldest surviving bank, Barclays, appeared in 1692.

Banks don’t die. They may be zombies, failed, broken, wrong, stupid, dumb or whatever other words you want to use, but you can’t kill them.

The main reason this is the case is because they are protected by governments. Left or right governments want strong and stable banks to ensure a strong and stable economy. Therefore, they protect these treasured assets like no other companies. For this reason, banks live forever.

They can be acquired …

… merged, sold and more, but they never die. Most banks that were around a century ago, are still around today.

1472: Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Siena, Italy

1590: Berenberg Bank, Hamburg, Germany

1668: Sveriges Riksbank, Stockholm, Sweden

1672: C. Hoare & Co., London

1674: Metzler Bank, Frankfurt, Germany

1690: Barclays, London

1692: Coutts, London

1694: Bank of England, London

1695: Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

1702: Caja Madrid, Madrid, Spain

1712: Drummonds Bank, London, United Kingdom

1727: Royal Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

1737: Van Lanschot, 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

1747: Banque Nagelmackers, Brussels, Belgium

1760: Banque Courtois, Toulouse, France

1765: Lloyds Bank, London

1774: Fürstlich Castell’sche Bank, Würzburg, Germany

1780: Landolt & Cie, Lausanne, Switzerland

1783: Bank of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

1784: The Bank of New York/BNY Mellon, New York City

So, don’t give me this hogwash about banks will die. They won’t. They’re bullet-proof. They last forever.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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