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Old 01-31-2020, 11:13 AM
jbaker is offline
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Fifth Third Bank and National Bank Naming Conventions


So the Cecil's Classic posted today is "What Gives with Fifth Third Bank," http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...th-third-bank/, about the bank's odd name. It seems a really odd column, strangely lacking in that it does almost nothing to explain why Fifth Third Bank has its distinctive name. Yes, it was formed by the merger of the Fifth National Bank and the Third National Bank, but why were banks called that in the first place?

A little historical background is helpful: The current national banking system dates from 1863, when the National Bank Act of 1863 was passed. Until then commercial banks were chartered by the states, and of course the majority of them continue to be state-chartered today, but national banks were subject to higher standards and were seen as having more credibility. State banks that could meet the new standards were invited to switch to a national charter, and many did.

National banks are regulated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (specifically, by a Treasury unit called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, but that wasn't established until 1864). The Secretary of the Treasury in 1863 was Salmon P. Chase, and he insisted on a distinctive naming system for national banks: the first national bank in X City would be the First National Bank of X City, the second would be the Second National Bank of X City, and so forth.

Cecil is flat-out wrong when he says that "in the 19th century, bankers (and church elders) were immune to the shove-to-the-front-of-the-line mindset that curses our times and instead cheerfully acknowledged their place in the natural order of things." (Well, he's wrong about bankers; I don't know about church elders.) Bankers hated this naming system with a passion. Typically they had well-established names as state banks, and they had to give that up to be, say, the Sixth National Bank of X City? Many state banks refused to make the change, specifically for that reason. But enough did that larger cities like Cincinnati would have a number of national banks.

Chase's naming system is long gone, and all the banks that once were named Second National Bank, Third National Bank, and so forth have changed their names to more felicitous appellations. Only the First National Banks are happy with that moniker. And Fifth Third Bank, I guess, although that hybrid version isn't really what Chase had in mind.

And what about the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency? Why do they call it that, and is there an actual Comptroller of the Currency? Until Federal Reserve Banks were established in 1913, bank notes (you know, dollar bills and such) were issued by commercial banks. So bank regulation was of crucial importance to protect the currency against devaluation from unsound banking. Now the name has only historical meaning, but the office in charge of national bank regulation is still called that due to bureaucratic inertia and perhaps a fondness for the now archaic name. And there is a real Comptroller of the Currency, who heads the OCC; currently it's a man named Joseph Otting.
 

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