Bank run

American Union Bank, New York City. April 26, 1932.

A bank run (also known as a run on the bank) occurs when a large number of people withdraw their money from a bank, because they believe the bank may cease to function in the near future. In other words, it is when, in a fractional-reserve banking system (where banks normally only keep a small proportion of their assets as cash), a large number of customers withdraw cash from deposit accounts with a financial institution at the same time because they believe that the financial institution is, or might become, insolvent; they keep the cash or transfer it into other assets, such as government bonds, precious metals or gemstones. When they transfer funds to another institution, it may be characterized as a capital flight. As a bank run progresses, it generates its own momentum: as more people withdraw cash, the likelihood of default increases, triggering further withdrawals. This can destabilize the bank to the point where it runs out of cash and thus faces sudden bankruptcy.[1] To combat a bank run, a bank may limit how much cash each customer may withdraw, suspend withdrawals altogether, or promptly acquire more cash from other banks or from the central bank, besides other measures.

A banking panic or bank panic is a financial crisis that occurs when many banks suffer runs at the same time, as people suddenly try to convert their threatened deposits into cash or try to get out of their domestic banking system altogether. A systemic banking crisis is one where all or almost all of the banking capital in a country is wiped out.[2] The resulting chain of bankruptcies can cause a long economic recession as domestic businesses and consumers are starved of capital as the domestic banking system shuts down.[3] According to former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, the Great Depression was caused by the Federal Reserve System,[4] and much of the economic damage was caused directly by bank runs.[5] The cost of cleaning up a systemic banking crisis can be huge, with fiscal costs averaging 13% of GDP and economic output losses averaging 20% of GDP for important crises from 1970 to 2007.[2]

Several techniques have been used to try to prevent bank runs or mitigate their effects. They have included a higher reserve requirement (requiring banks to keep more of their reserves as cash), government bailouts of banks, supervision and regulation of commercial banks, the organization of central banks that act as a lender of last resort, the protection of deposit insurance systems such as the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,[1] and after a run has started, a temporary suspension of withdrawals.[6] These techniques do not always work: for example, even with deposit insurance, depositors may still be motivated by beliefs they may lack immediate access to deposits during a bank reorganization.[7]


The run on the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. The Mayor addressing the crowd. Printed in 1872 in the Canadian Illustrated News.

Bank runs first appeared as part of cycles of credit expansion and its subsequent contraction. In the 16th century onwards, English goldsmiths issuing promissory notes suffered severe failures due to bad harvests, plummeting parts of the country into famine and unrest. Other examples are the Dutch Tulip manias (1634–1637), the British South Sea Bubble (1717–1719), the French Mississippi Company (1717–1720), the post-Napoleonic depression (1815–1830) and the Great Depression (1929–1939).

Bank runs have also been used to blackmail individuals or governments. In 1832, for example, the British government under the Duke of Wellington overturned a majority government on the orders of the king, William IV, to prevent reform (the later 1832 Reform Act). Wellington's actions angered reformers, and they threatened a run on the banks under the rallying cry "Stop the Duke, go for gold!".[8]

Many of the recessions in the United States were caused by banking panics. The Great Depression contained several banking crises consisting of runs on multiple banks from 1929 to 1933; some of these were specific to regions of the U.S.[3] Bank runs were most common in states whose laws allowed banks to operate only a single branch, dramatically increasing risk compared to banks with multiple branches particularly when single-branch banks were located in areas economically dependent on a single industry.[9]

Banking panics began in the Upper-South in November 1930, one year after the stock market crash, triggered by the collapse of a string of banks in Tennessee and Kentucky, which brought down their correspondent networks. In December, New York City experienced massive bank runs that were contained to the many branches of a single bank. Philadelphia was hit a week later by bank runs that affected several banks, but were successfully contained by quick action by the leading city banks and the Federal Reserve Bank.[10] Withdrawals became worse after financial conglomerates in New York and Los Angeles failed in prominently-covered scandals.[11] Much of the US Depression's economic damage was caused directly by bank runs,[5] though Canada had no bank runs during this same era due to different banking regulations.[12]

Money supply decreased substantially between Black Tuesday and the Bank Holiday in March 1933 when there were massive bank runs across the United States.

Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz argued that steady withdrawals from banks by nervous depositors ("hoarding") were inspired by news of the fall 1930 bank runs and forced banks to liquidate loans, which directly caused a decrease in the money supply, shrinking the economy.[13] Bank runs continued to plague the United States for the next several years. Citywide runs hit Boston (Dec. 1931), Chicago (June 1931 and June 1932), Toledo (June 1931), and St. Louis (Jan. 1933), among others.[14] Institutions put into place during the Depression have prevented runs on U.S. commercial banks since the 1930s,[15] even under conditions such as the U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.[16]

The global financial crisis that began in 2007 was centered around market-liquidity failures that were comparable to a bank run. The crisis contained a wave of bank nationalizations, including those associated with Northern Rock of the UK and IndyMac of the U.S. This crisis was caused by low real interest rates stimulating an asset price bubble fuelled by new financial products that were not stress tested and that failed in the downturn.[17]

Other Languages
čeština: Run na banku
Deutsch: Bank Run
eesti: Pangajooks
euskara: Banku-izu
français: Panique bancaire
한국어: 뱅크런
italiano: Bank run
македонски: Банкарска криза
Nederlands: Bankrun
norsk: Bankkrise
português: Corrida aos bancos
slovenčina: Run (banka)
svenska: Bankrusning
українська: Банкова паніка
中文: 擠提