DEFINITION of Multibank Holding Company

A multibank holding company owns or controls two or more commercial banks. Because of their corporate status, they are subject to more regulations and oversight than standalone banks, but at the same time also have more options for raising capital due to their larger size and greater diversity. Multibank holding companies are governed by the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 and its amendments. The Act was designed to check the expansion of banks and to ensure that they had separate banking and non-banking functions. 

A multibank holding company may be contrasted with a one-bank holding company, which controls 25% or more of the voting rights in a single bank.

BREAKING DOWN Multibank Holding Company

The rise of multibank holding companies has much to do with geographic diversification and the impact of regional economics. Historically, commerical banks, such as savings & loans and community banks, served the geographic area immediately surrounding the physical location of the bank itself. If the businesses in the surrounding area all failed in large enough numbers at the same time, the banks would not be able to stay open because a large portion of their loan portfolio would default all at once. This could happen, for example, if a particular region relied heavily on industrial manufacturing where most businesses are factories, if the manufacturing sector takes a hit then these firms will all be negatively impacted similarly.

This can also be due to a concentration of agricultural enterprises. During the Great Depression, for example, the failure of large numbers of farms resulted in many banks across the United States having to close.

Multibank holding companies provide a level of diversification, as a company with banks across several different communities in several different geographic areas ostensibly carries less risk than a company with only one bank in one concentrated area. The creation of subsidiaries allowed individual banks to combine administrative operations, which reduced costs while also allowing them to tap into their holding company’s assets in times of crisis.

State banking laws influence whether multibank holding companies are likely to set up in a particular state. Unit banking states tend to have more multibank holding companies since the law prohibits bank branching, while branch and limited-branch banking states tend to have more one-bank holding companies. Banks that are members of the National Association (N.A.) can have bank locations in several states and may even operate internationally.

As of mid-2018, the largest multi-bank holding company in the world is JP Morgan Chase, followed by Bank of America. Citigroup, and Wells Fargo.