Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Century of Change: Charlotte, Banking and the Federal Reserve

Levine Museum of the New South and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond are pleased to co-host a panel discussion, “A Century of Change: Charlotte, Banking and the Federal Reserve,” on Tuesday, September 16. Matt Martin, the Richmond Fed’s Charlotte regional executive, answers questions about the Fed’s founding 100 years ago and the opening of the Charlotte office in 1927. 

Charlotte was not chosen for a main Fed bank when the Federal Reserve was founded in 1914, so why did the Richmond Fed create an office here in 1927?


After the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, the next step became where to locate the 12 regional Reserve Banks. A spirited competition began around the country. Charlotte was one of 37 cities that submitted a formal petition for a regional Reserve Bank. At the time it was one of the smallest cities to apply and was not selected.

Instead, Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas became part of the Richmond Federal Reserve District. Richmond was one of the 12 cities chosen to house a regional Reserve Bank, opening for business on November 16, 1914. Branches around the country began to open, and the Richmond Fed’s Baltimore office started operations in 1918. Although Charlotte did not initially land a regional headquarters, interest in a branch for Charlotte was high. Bankers in both North Carolina and South Carolina led a seven-year campaign to get a branch office, noting Charlotte’s growing importance as a regional financial center and its ideal location for serving both North Carolina and South Carolina. The Richmond Fed looked closely at the issue and agreed with these arguments. The Charlotte office opened on December 1, 1927.



How did the Federal Reserve contribute to the rise of Charlotte as a banking center — what did the opening of a branch office in the city mean?

Loading coins, Charlotte Branch, 1956
Charlotte has long been a banking center, and the decision to open a Federal Reserve branch reflected that reality. By the 1920s, Charlotte had become an important regional banking center supporting key industries like textiles. The banking and business community believed that having a branch office of the Richmond Fed would confirm the growing economic importance of the region, as well as provide support for future growth. After the official announcement that Charlotte would get a branch office, bankers noted that having the branch would increase deposits in Charlotte banks (allowing for more lending in the region), speed up check clearing and other payments, give banks ready access to the discount window (short-term loans to banks that provided more liquidity) and generally promote more commerce in the region.

Bankers and others in the region at the time also noted the symbolic importance of having a branch office in Charlotte. One banker, quoted in the December 1, 1927, Charlotte Observer, said that “Charlotte will be placed in the class of the most important financial centers in the country.” In a sense, getting the branch confirmed that Charlotte was a place of enough financial importance to need one. Confirmation of that notion almost certainly aided further growth in the way that success often leads to more success. Of course, there were other important factors at work in the region, but the opening of the branch provided confirmation those other factors were important.

***

Matt Martin alongside Hugh McColl, former chairman and CEO of Bank of America; Harvey Gantt, former mayor of Charlotte; and Rick Rothacker, author of Banktown: The Rise and Struggles of Charlotte's Big Banks; will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Museum President Emily Zimmern. Tuesday, September 16, 5:30 pm reception; 6:30 pm discussion. Event is FREE, registration is required. Register at http://www.cvent.com/d/k4qf4d


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