Correspondent Clearing and the Banking Panics of the Great Depression
Between the founding of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 and the depression of the 1930s, three check-clearing systems operated in the United States. The Federal Reserve cleared checks for members of the system. Clearing houses cleared checks for members of their organizations. Correspondents cleared checks for all other institutions. The correspondent-clearing system was vulnerable to counter-party cascades, particularly because accounting conventions overstated reserves available to individual institutions and the system as a whole. In November 1930, a correspondent system in the center of the United States collapsed, causing the closure of more than one hundred institutions. Bank runs radiated from the locus of events, and additional correspondent networks succumbed to the situation. For the remainder of the contraction, banks that relied upon correspondents to clear checks failed at higher rates than other banks. In sum, weaknesses within a check-clearing system played a hitherto unrecognized role in the banking crises of the Great Depression.
I thank colleagues, friends, and participants in the conference Economics of Payments II for comments and advice. I thank Francesca Labordo for exceptional research assistance. National Science Foundation Grant D/SES-00551232 supported this research. The author may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Richardson, Gary, 2007. "The Check is in the Mail: Correspondent Clearing and the Collapse of the Banking System, 1930 to 1933," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(03), pages 643-671, September.