No industry has seen more name changes and mergers and acquisitions than America’s banking industry. Many people don’t realize that BankAmerica, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo – all among the ten largest banks thirty years ago – were each absorbed by smaller banks which then adopted their names.
Of the fifty largest banks in 1990, listed below, only 10 of them still exist today as independent “survivors.” (And even those 10 are really 9 now, since we counted both Albany’s KeyCorp and Cleveland’s Society Bank as survivors due to their “merger of equals” into KeyBank)
This consolidation of so many banks into a few giant national organizations is like the consolidation of the airlines in the 1920s and 1930s and the evolutions of the accounting, railroad, and department store industries over the last fifty years.
Many of us grew up in an era when banks were locally owned and managed. We often personally knew “our banker.” And, at least into the 1960s, some states including Illinois had “unit banking rules” which prohibited branch banks, resulting in thousands of neighborhood banks.
While there are still about 5,000 banks listed with the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), most smaller and local banks have been absorbed into bigger banks. Increased regulation of banking and new rules and paperwork have been hard on the smaller banks. In the financial meltdown of 2008-9, the big banks were bailed out by the government as being “too big to fail,” but smaller banks did not always get this help. Some big investment banks, which did not traditionally serve small depositors, had themselves reclassified as banks (as in commercial banks) in order to avail themselves of the bailouts.
Today, there are the “big four” giant banks, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. They seem to have branches on every street corner across America. Each of those four has assets (as of 2020) of between 1.6 and 2.7 trillion dollars. After them, there is a big drop to the fifth-ranked US Bank, with a measly $500 billion in assets, less than 1/3 the size of 4th place Citibank.
This is a far cry from the industry’s structure a mere thirty years ago. In the paragraphs below, we list the fifty largest banks of 1990 ranked by assets, with information on what became of each of them. 1990 is a good year to look back at, because it was right before a huge rash of bank mergers in the 1990s. The 1990 list is from Fortune magazine.
We don’t think anyone else has ever compiled so comprehensive a list of “whatever became of” these banks. Each of the banks listed below has a deeper, more complex history, including dozens of local and regional bank acquisitions. Most of those trails can be found on Wikipedia.
Like many acquisitions, most of these deals were called mergers. But if the stockholders of one company ended up owning a majority of the shares of the combined company, we consider the transaction an acquisition. Mergers of relative equals often result in corporate culture clashes and management turmoil, with the leadership of one of the organizations ultimately taking control. (The one merger we have marked as a true merger of equals was that of KeyCorp of Albany and Society of Cleveland, into KeyBank.)
Banks that survived all this turmoil and are still going, even if under a new name, are marked in red. All the others, even if their names are in use today, are “goners” or owned by another company and not an independent bank.
Notice that these “goners” include JP Morgan, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America – all acquired by other banks which then adopted these great old brand names, using them to become one of today’s giants. Among those giants, only Citibank is still the same outfit it was thirty years ago, and even it has been through a tremendous amount of change, merging with Travelers Insurance in 1998, then selling off many parts (including Travelers and its red umbrella logo).
After these notes, we have included lists of the 25 largest banks in asset size order in 1935, 1960, and 2020, totaling 85 years of history. We look forward to revisiting this list in 2050!
Ranked by assets in 1990 based on this list of the top 250 banks:
1. Citicorp/Citibank, New York. #1 in 1990 with assets of $217 billion. One of today’s giants, originally First National City Bank of New York, ranking 4th in 2020, with $1.6 trillion in assets, 8 times its size thirty years ago. Citibank has been an innovator in international banking, ATMs, certificates of deposit, and a key partner in the Master Charge bank association, renamed Mastercard in 1979.
2. BankAmerica, San Francisco. #2 in 1990 with $111 billion in assets. Originally Bank of America and before that Bank of Italy, founded by AP Giannini. Acquired by Charlotte-based NationsBank (NCNB in 1990) in 1998, which then adopted the Bank of America name. The original San Francisco BankAmerica also created the Bankamericard in 1958, renamed VISA in 1976, now a giant freestanding company.
3. Chase Manhattan, New York. #3 in 1990 with $98 billion in assets. Long associated with the Rockefeller family, acquired by Chemical Bank in 1996, which was then renamed Chase, now called JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in 2020.
4. J. P. Morgan, New York. #4 in 1990 with $93 billion in assets. This bank was the original JP Morgan, later called Morgan Guaranty Trust and the ultimate bank for wealthy people. Under the Glass-Steagall Act, it was forced to separate its core investment banking activities in 1935, resulting in the creation of Morgan Stanley. The commercial JP Morgan bank was acquired by Chase in 2000, resulting in the rechristened JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in 2020.
5. Security Pacific, Los Angeles, #5 in 1990, $85 billion in assets. Acquired by BankAmerica in 1992.
6. Chemical Banking, New York. #6 in 1990, $73 billion in assets. Through acquisitions, evolved to become JPMorgan Chase, #1 in 2020 with assets of $2.7 trillion, 37 times its size thirty years ago.
7. NCNB, Charlotte. #7 in 1990, $65 billion in assets. The former North Carolina National Bank bought C&S/Sovran in 1991 and renamed itself NationsBank, which in 1998 bought BankAmerica and adopted the Bank of America name. In 2020, it is #2 with $2 trillion in assets, 31 times its size in 1990.
8. Bankers Trust, New York. #8 in 1990, $64 billion in assets. Acquired by the German Deutsche Bank in 1998, then, in 2003, sold by them to State Street (#54 in 1990; #9 in 2020).
9. Manufacturers Hanover, New York. #9 in 1990, $62 billion in assets. Acquired by Chemical Bank in 1991, which evolved into today’s JP Morgan Chase.
10. Wells Fargo, San Francisco. #10 in 1990, $56 billion in assets. Illustrious old company descended from stagecoach operators Wells and Fargo was acquired by Norwest (#21, below), originally Northwestern National Bank, of Minneapolis in 1998. The company then adopted the Wells Fargo name and today ranks #3 with $1.8 trillion in assets.
11. First Interstate, Los Angeles. An offspring of AP Giannini’s Transamerica Corporation, this bank was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1996, which was then acquired by Norwest two years later. The resultant bank is called Wells Fargo today.
12. C&S/Sovran. Atlanta. The result of the merger of Citizens & Southern and the former Virginia National Bank in 1989, this bank was acquired in 1991 by nearby NCNB, which in turn was renamed Bank of America in 1998.
13. First Chicago, Chicago. In 1995, the former First National Bank of Chicago merged with NBD, the former National Bank of Detroit, in a merger of near-equals. Stockholders of First Chicago owned 50.1% of the new company, while the owners of NBD owned 49.9%. In 1998, this combine was acquired by Banc One of Columbus, Ohio, descended from that city’s City National Bank. The newly combined company was renamed Bank One, with headquarters in Chicago. In 2004, Bank One was acquired by JP Morgan Chase. With that acquisition came Jamie Dimon, head of Bank One and a former Citibank executive. The highly regarded Dimon became CEO of JP Morgan Chase in 2006 and continues to lead the nation’s biggest bank today.
14. PNC Financial, Pittsburgh. #14 in 1990, with $46 billion in assets. Now 7th biggest, PNC, with assets of $434 billion is 9 times as big as it was thirty years ago.
15. Bank of New York, New York. Acquired Pittsburgh’s Mellon Bank in 2007 and renamed BNY Mellon. (This deal was touted as a merger. But BNY stockholders ended up with 60% of the new company, so we call it an acquisition.) Now over 8 times as large as it was in 1990.
16. First Union, Charlotte. In 2001, First Union (originally Union National Bank) acquired fellow North Carolina bank Wachovia and adopted the Wachovia name. In 2008, this Wachovia Corporation was acquired by Wells Fargo.
17. SunTrust Banks, Atlanta. SunTrust was the result of the 1985 acquisition of Florida’s Sun Bank by Atlanta’s former Trust Company of Georgia. In 2019, SunTrust was acquired by BB&T, the former Branch Banking and Trust, #94 in 1990. The combined company was renamed Truist Financial, the 6th biggest American bank in 2020.
18. Bank of Boston, Boston. With antecedents dating to 1784, the former First National Bank of Boston had also sired investment bank First Boston when the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 forced the divorce of investment banking from commercial banking. In 1996, this bank acquired rival BayBank and renamed itself BankBoston, only to be acquired itself by another rival, Fleet Bank, in 1999. Then this whole New England shebang was purchased by Bank of America in 2004.
19. Fleet/Norstar Financial Group, Providence. Starting in 1791 as the Providence Bank, Fleet grew through acquisitions, including the Norstar and Shawmut banks. They bought BankBoston in 1999, becoming FleetBoston, and succumbed to Bank of America in 2004.
20. Barnett Banks, Jacksonville. After rising to become the largest bank in Florida, Barnett was bought by NationsBank (the former NCNB) in 1997, which was renamed Bank of America when NationsBank bought BankAmerica in 1998.
21. Norwest, Minneapolis. #21 in 1990, with $31 billion in assets. Bought Wells Fargo in 1998 and adopted the larger bank’s name. Today Wells Fargo is third largest at $1.8 trillion in assets, 57 times as big as the company was in 1990.
22. Banc One, Columbus. Acquired First Chicago NBD in 1998 and renamed Bank One, only to be acquired by JP Morgan Chase in 2004. Bank One CEO Jamie Dimon arrived at JP Morgan Chase as part of that deal and rose to the top of JP Morgan Chase within two years.
23. Republic New York, New York. Billionaire Edmond Safra sold his Republic Bank to HSBC in 1999. Based in London, HSBC was originally the colonial bank Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking company. Later in 1999, Safra died in a home fire set by his nurse to demonstrate how the nurse could save Safra’s life, but the fire got out of control. Since buying Republic, HSBC has shed many of its American branches, and continues to do so.
24. First Fidelity, Lawrenceville, NJ. Acquired in 1995 by First Union of Charlotte, which in turn bought Wachovia and adopted their name in 2001, and then was subsumed by Wells Fargo’s empire in 2008.
25. Mellon Bank, Pittsburgh. Bought by Bank of New York in 2007 to become BNY Mellon.
26. Continental Bank, Chicago. Longtime Chicago’s largest bank Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust rose as high as the 7th largest bank in America before failing in 1984, the largest bank failure in US history at the time. The FDIC bailed it out with billions of dollars. In 1994, BankAmerica bought the resuscitated Continental, before being bought itself by NationsBank (the former NCNB) in 1998. As a result, this bank ended up as Bank of America today.
27. NBD Bancorp, Detroit. Merged with First Chicago in 1995, ultimately becoming part of JP Morgan Chase via a circuitous route. (See details at First Chicago, #13, above.)
28. MNC Financial, Baltimore. The old Maryland National Bank spun off its large credit card operations as MBNA in 1991. In 1993, NationsBank (formerly NCNB, later Bank of America) bought MNC. Bank of America also bought MBNA in 2006.
29. First Wachovia, Winston-Salem. Acquired by First Union in 2001 (see #16, above), which was then renamed Wachovia. The new Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo (formerly Norwest) in 2008.
30. National City, Cleveland. Purchased in 2008 by PNC of Pittsburgh (#14, above) but PNC was smaller than “NatCity” at the time of the acquisition.
31. Shawmut National, Boston. Acquired by Fleet/Norstar in 1995, which was then captured by Bank of America in 2004. (See Fleet, #19, above.)
32. Midlantic, Edison, NJ. Acquired by PNC in 1995.
33. CoreStates Financial, Philadelphia. Originally Philadelphia National Bank, acquired by First Union in 1998, then renamed Wachovia, then sold to Wells Fargo in 2008.
34. National Westminster, New York. Dating from 1851, the National Bank of North America was purchased by Britain’s National Westminster in 1978, then sold to Fleet Bank in 1996. This bank ended up as part of Bank of America in 2004. (See Fleet, #19, above.)
35. Bank of New England, Boston. With Connecticut predecessors dating to 1792, this bank was taken over by the FDIC in 1991 after big losses. The remains were taken over by Fleet Bank and ended up as part of Bank of America. (See Fleet, #19, above.)
36. Marine Midland, Buffalo. The dominant bank in upstate New York, dating from 1850, was gradually acquired by Britain’s HSBC in the 1980s (see Republic, #23, above). In 1998, the branches were rebranded HSBC. Over time, HSBC sold off most of these branches to multiple banks. Many ended up as part of KeyBank (see next entry).
37. Keycorp, Albany. This bank is one of the few survivors, as KeyBank, ranking 20th in 2020. First chartered as the Commercial Bank of Albany in 1825, the company was combined in 1994 with Society Bank of Cleveland in a “merger of equals.” While the surviving corporation was technically Society, the bank chose to use the name KeyBank. As far as we can tell, this was a true merger of equals, so here we give credit to both banks as “survivors.” In 1990, Keycorp’s assets were $19 billion and Society’s were $15 billion; in 2020, KeyBank had assets of $155 billion, the 20th largest American bank, 4.5 times their combined size thirty years ago.
38. First Bank, Minneapolis. Created by the 1929 merger of the First National Banks of Minneapolis and St. Paul, First Bank System bought US Bancorp of Oregon in 1997 and was renamed US Bancorp. Today branded US Bank, the company is now the 5th largest American bank, just behind the “big four,” with 2020 assets of $533 billion, 28 times its $19 billion size in 1990.
39. US Bancorp, Portland. See First Bank, immediately above.
40. Boatmen’s Bancshares, St. Louis. Dating from 1847, this bank was purchased by NationsBank (formerly NCNB) in 1997, so it, too, ended up as Bank of America.
41. Union Bank, San Francisco. In 1979, the Japanese-owned Bank of Tokyo California, first formed in 1953, took over Union Bank. Today the bank is owned by the wonderfully named MUFG Bank, Ltd. (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group). While this is the 22nd biggest US bank today, with $155 billion in assets, we do not count it as an independent survivor due to its ownership by Japanese interests. The Japanese parent MUFG Bank is rated the 7th largest in the world in total assets.
42. Society Corp, Cleveland. See KeyCorp, #37 above. Now KeyBank, we treat Society as a survivor because their merger with KeyCorp was a merger of equals.
43. First of America Bank, Kalamazoo, Michigan. One of only two small headquarters cities on this list, the other being Princeton, NJ (see #47). (Some of the above banks were based in smaller communities in New Jersey, but these were parts of bigger metropolitan areas.) This bank was bought by National City in 1997 (see #30 above), so ultimately became PNC. (We must mention that Kalamazoo was also the home of drug maker Upjohn, Gibson guitars, taxi producer Checker Motors, and perhaps our all-time favorite company name, Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, later shortened to KVP Sutherland.)
44. Southeast Banking, Miami. The bank failed in 1991 and was seized by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (part of the US Treasury Department). Most assets were sold off to First Union (see #16, above), so they ended up as part of Wachovia, then Wells Fargo.
45. First City Bancorp of Texas. Perhaps surprisingly, the only Texas bank in this list. The other giants of Texas banking had failed due to prior real estate fiascos, leaving this one alone among the top 50. In 1992, the FDIC determined that even this bank was insolvent, and closed it up. Most of the bank ended up going to competitor Texas Commerce Bancshares, which had been bought by Chemical Bank (see #6 above), now called JP Morgan Chase. (Texas’ largest bank, First Republic, had resulted from the 1987 merger of Republic National and InterFirst, both of Dallas. NCNB acquired this former giant in 1988, so these became NationsBank, then Bank of America.)
46. Comerica, Detroit. Stemming from the Detroit Savings Fund Institute, founded in 1849, this bank gradually acquired banks in the sunbelt. In 2007 headquarters were moved to Dallas. It is now the 37th biggest bank in America, with assets of $76 billion, almost 6 times the size of its 1990 assets of $13 billion.
47. UJB Financial, Princeton, NJ. In 1995, this bank bought Summit Bancorp and adopted the Summit name. In 2001, Summit was acquired by FleetBoston (#19, above), thus ending up as Bank of America.
48. Harris Bankcorp, Chicago. This bank was acquired by the Bank of Montreal in 1984 and is now branded BMO Harris. Due to being part of a larger company, we do not count it as an independent “survivor.”
49. Manufacturers National, Detroit. Taken over by Comerica in 1992 (see Comerica, #46).
50. Crestar Financial, Richmond. Originally the State Planters Bank of Commerce and Trusts, this bank was acquired by SunTrust in 1998 (see #17, above), thus eventually becoming BB&T and now Truist.
More Historical Lists:
Note the long-term decline of New York as the headquarters of virtually all the major banks.
25 Largest US banks in 1935. (Based on 1939 Government document. All based in New York unless otherwise noted.)
25 Largest US banks in 1960. (Based on Fortune magazine list. All based in New York unless otherwise noted.)
25 Largest US banks in 2020. (Based on this list. Note the presence of companies formerly considered investment banks or brokerage houses. These numbers are in thousands of dollars, so that first number is $2.69 trillion.)
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