Depositor Discipline at Failing Banks

by John S. Jordan
March/April 2000

Uninsured depositors, whose deposits are not fully protected by federal deposit insurance, have an incentive to monitor banks? activities and impose additional funding costs on risky banks. This pricing is a form of market discipline, since the market penalizes banks for taking on greater risk. For banks that become troubled, market discipline can take a more severe form: Market participants may become unwilling to supply uninsured funds at any reasonable price. This study examines the effectiveness of depositor discipline at banks that failed in New England in the early 1990s.

The empirical analysis examines whether failing banks in New England faced depositor discipline as they became troubled in the early 1990s, and whether these banks attempted to shield themselves from this discipline. Failing banks in New England experienced a 70 percent decline in their uninsured deposits in their final two years of operation. The author finds that despite the magnitude of the gap to fill, and despite the presence of close regulatory scrutiny, many failing banks increased their use of insured deposits enough to offset much of the shortfall created by the decline in uninsured deposits, diminishing the effectiveness of market discipline by depositors.

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