The Impact of Local Knowledge on Banking

Journal of Financial Services Research (forthcoming)

Robert Bird. Co-author: John Knopf

Do geographic factors influence the performance and behavior of modern banks? Advances in technology and global information sharing have seemingly made geographic characteristics irrelevant, but a bank with geographic advantages can have a positive impact on bank performance. A key factor influencing the geographic literature is the concept of local knowledge, i.e., information that influences bank decision making but is not readily transmittable beyond a limited geographic boundary. Banks possessing local knowledge can offer products and services to qualified local borrowers that other less informed banks might overlook, including for example a more diverse portfolio of products and services to start-ups and small businesses.

Using a combination of bank performance data, and differences in state laws allowing employers to require and enforce non-compete agreements, Professor Bird and his co-author find that strong not-to-compete laws restricting employee mobility in a state negatively impact the incidence of new bank charters while benefiting incumbent employers. Restrictions on the mobility of local knowledge decrease labor expenses because workers lack the bargaining power of being able to take a job with a local rival. Results indicate that increases in labor restrictions are positively correlated with profitability for established banks.  Thus, geographically-specific human capital remains an important differentiating factor that influences bank behavior and competition counter to standard theoretical accounts that might imply otherwise.

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