The system of personal finance that developed in the United States was more fragmented than comparative arrangements in most industrializing countries, where savings banks had become large, diversified financial institutions. The federalist political structure of the U.S., combined with lobbying by existing intermediaries, inhibited the establishment of a centralized public provider of financial services for households such as emerged elsewhere. Moreover, the United States did not develop strong, diversified savings institutions at the local level, due in part to regulations that stifled innovation by savings banks and in part to the risk-averse organizational culture of the banks themselves. These factors enabled the proliferation of specialized intermediaries that aggressively marketed new financial services to households and facilitated the growth of new patterns of financial behavior among ordinary Americans.
R. DANIEL WADHWANI is Fletcher Jones Assistant Professor at the Eberhardt School of Business, University of the Pacific.