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DOJ Weighs Stricter Bank Merger Guidelines

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Published: January 14th, 2022

The Department of Justice, or DOJ, is seeking public comment on whether the 1995 Bank Merger Competitive Review Guidelines should be strengthened in the latest push by Democrats to more closely scrutinize consolidation in financial services.

The Friday, Dec. 17, announcement builds on a September 2020 request from the division during the Trump administration that sought feedback on revamping the guidelines. Under the leadership of newly installed antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter, the updated solicitation “focuses on whether bank merger review is currently sufficient to prevent harmful mergers and whether it accounts for the full range of competitive factors appropriate under the laws,” the DOJ said.

Kanter weighed in days after Democrats on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) board of directors clashed with Republican Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams over their attempt to force the agency to reexamine its bank merger review standards.

The Deal reported last week that the effort was led by Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a former colleague of Lina Khan, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission. While McWilliams rebuffed the maneuver, that tactic put her on the defensive, prompting her to disclose that her office is drafting a similar proposal.

In a series of tweets, Khan applauded Kanter’s announcement, arguing that increased consolidation among banks has led to higher consumer fees and reduced access to credit for small businesses.

“Banking consolidation has accelerated in recent years — there were 1,616 fewer banking institutions in 2020 than in 2010, while the number of megabanks has grown,” Khan wrote. In a July presidential order on promoting competition, President Joe Biden urged the DOJ and agencies responsible for oversight of banking to refresh their guidance “to provide more robust scrutiny” of bank mergers.

DOJ comments can be emailed to ATR.BankMergers@usdoj.gov and must be received no later than Feb. 15.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published earlier on The Deal’s premium subscription website. For access, log in to TheDeal.com or request a free trial.

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