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Community Bank Strategic Lending Choices and Performance

by Gary Whalen


Most community banks have been unable to increase dramatically the percentage of their revenue coming from non-traditional sources and so remain reliant on the net income generated by traditional intermediation activities. This continued dependence means that the lending strategy chosen by any community bank is a key determinant of its survival. In this study the lending strategies chosen by a sample of 5508 community banks are examined over the 1995 - 2004 period. Links among the chosen strategies, strategic change, and performance are also investigated using both univariate and regression analysis. The analysis of lending strategy trends reveals an increase in the percentage of community banks that emphasize lending to business borrowers and a decrease in the fraction of institutions specializing in loans to non-commercial customers. The data also indicate that the typical community bank changed its lending strategy over the decade, and many did so more than once.

Differences in performance are evident across the strategic groups. The results indicate that business real estate lenders earned the highest returns over the decade, but also were the riskiest. When returns are adjusted for risk, a number of lending strategies produced performance exceeding that of business real estate lending, including residential real estate lending, diversified lending, and agricultural lending. The results show that strategic change reduces returns and increases risk, all else equal. The evidence indicates a large performance disadvantage for the smallest community banks regardless of the lending strategy they pursue.


Any whole or partial reproduction of material in this paper should include the following citation: Gary Whalen, "Community Bank Strategic Lending Choices and Performance," Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Economics Working Paper 2007-3, July 2007.


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