With one notable exception, little is known about how consumers in the District and surrounding states feel about regional or national interstate banking or the status quo.
With the passage of regional interstate banking laws in the Washington region, it has been taken for granted that most consumers support the concept.
The same can be said of consumers elsewhere.
Typically, proponents of national interstate banking maintain that consumers will benefit from greater competition. Keener competition supposedly will lead to better services, lower fees and higher savings rates for consumers. Interestingly, proponents of regional interstate banking and national interstate banking, though at odds over which is best for banking and the economy, make the same argument about the benefits that consumers can expect.
A committee that was appointed a year ago to study the possible impact of interstate banking on Maryland observed that some proponents held that permitting interstate mergers would increase the flow of funds to the state and create more jobs. The same committee, which eventually recommended that Maryland adopt a regional interstate banking bill maintained that " . . . The best interests of Maryland's citizens and Maryland's economic development are served by permitting all Maryland-chartered bank holding companies to participate in interstate banking."
In urging the D.C. City Council to adopt legislation that would permit national interstate banking, a representative of New York's Citicorp, emphasizing the importance of competition, projected higher rates on consumer deposits, lower rates on loans and increased availability of credit. "New and better services will be provided, with greater convenience," the Citicorp official declared.
More recently, in testimony at a council hearing on an application for an interstate merger between United Virginia Bankshares Inc. and NS&T Bankshares Inc., officials representing the principals said much the same thing.
By and large, the promises and projections of greater convenience, better consumer rates and more jobs have gone mostly unchallenged. Consumers generally have had little to say on the subject, and few efforts have been made to obtain their opinions on the potential benefits of interstate banking.
An exception, of course, has been in the District, where a small group of community organizations has opposed the merger application of NS&T and UVB. The same alliance of community activists warned the D.C. Council last summer that the regional interstate banking bill "threatens to unleash new disinvestment forces in the District." Interstate banking is a "two-edged sword," they declared.
It should be noted, however, that the opposition of local groups is based more on their criticism of the lending practices of certain institutions than on the merits of interstate banking.
Results of a national survey conducted earlier this year also indicate a distinct lack of enthusiasm among consumers for interstate banking, but for far less parochial reasons. The poll, which was conducted by Bank Letter, a publication of Institutional Investor, and Simmons Market Research Bureau, found that most consumers would rather do business with banks that continue to operate in their basic markets. According to the survey, consumers believe that hometown banks give the most personalized service and that local banks are most likely to lend money in their communities.
Consumers were split more evenly on which types of banks offer better savings rates and service fees. More than 37 percent thought that local banks had lower fees, compared with nearly 30 percent who said services would be cheaper under national interstate banking. Twenty-three percent had no opinion.
Support for interstate banking is stronger among consumers who are younger, better educated and more affluent, according to the survey, which also showed that more women than men favor interstate banking.
The survey also found that sentiment for interstate banking is much higher in the West than in other regions, though states in the East, particularly in New England and the Southeast, have been far more active in the passage of regional interstate banking laws.
The survey results have been weighted to represent a statistically valid national sample, according to the editors of Bank Letter and Simmons Market Research.
If the results accurately reflect the sentiment of bank customers nationwide, then proponents of interstate banking -- regional and national -- haven't done a very good job of selling the concepts to the public. But then, it is really the banking industry that will reap the greater benefits of interstate banking.