Economics, Financial Services, U.S. Economy

You were a big savings and loan…

Image Credit: shutterstock

Image Credit: shutterstock

“The Big Guys.” That’s what one of my colleague Federal Home Loan Bank presidents used to call the biggest savings and loans. Where are they now?

His attitude was a lingering reflection of the great post-World War II US housing boom, when the most important residential mortgage lenders were the savings and loans. In the Golden Age of the S&Ls, from the 1940s through the 1970s, the American home ownership rate increased dramatically, from about 50% in 1944 to over 64% in 1980. (That is the same level it is now.) Waving the banner of housing and home ownership, the S&Ls were politically potent and their trade association, the US League for Savings, a lobbying force to be reckoned with, until the early 1980s. S&Ls had their own government deposit insurance fund, FSLIC (the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation).

The list of the 25 biggest S&Ls in America in 1983, just three decades ago, contains many names which were famous in housing finance circles in those days. How many do you think still exist? Make your guess before you read the answer.

These 25 formerly famous names are unheard of now, because of the 25, the number still existing as independent companies is zero. Not one. The US League for Savings no longer exists. Neither does FSLIC.

Of the 25 biggest S&S, 17 failed or were acquired by institutions which later failed. The remaining eight were acquired and are merged portions of much bigger banks.

Here they are, or rather, were, for the instruction of the young in the fragility of institutions, and for the nostalgia of old veterans of the housing finance crises of the 1980s and 2000s:

The Biggest Savings and Loans in the United States, 1983

  1. American Savings
  2. Home Savings
  3. Great Western
  4. California Federal
  5. Philadelphia Savings Fund Society
  6. Goldome
  7. Glendale Federal
  8. First Nationwide
  9. World Savings
  10. First Federal of Michigan
  11. Metropolitan Savings
  12. Empire of America
  13. City Federal
  14. Home Federal
  15. Dime Savings
  16. Talman Home
  17. Anchor Savings
  18. Gibraltar Savings
  19. Bowery Savings
  20. Imperial Savings
  21. Dollar Dry Dock
  22. Coast Federal
  23. Great American
  24. Sears Savings
  25. Standard Federal

The Big Guys?

“You were a Big Guy, blink and now you’re gone.”

Alex J. Pollock is a resident fellow at AEI.

Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.

3 thoughts on “You were a big savings and loan…

  1. Interesting list, but why isn’t Washington Mutual in it? It would have been the largest thrift through many of the years in question. Perhaps because it began life as a state-chartered mutual savings bank, not as an S&L? But some of the others on the list (e.g., Dime) may also have been mutual savings banks, at least until they went public and sold stock. Can anyone clarify this?

    • They didn’t make the top 25 list in 1983, although several of those who did were later acquired by WaMu and shared its fate. Thanks for reading my essay. Alex Pollock

  2. Of course, the sequel should be, of the top 25 banks in 1983, how many are still around? No fair counting banks with the same name but which have actually since been acquired by other banks which kept the name of the bank that they acquired, such as Bank of America (acquired by NationsBank) and Wells Fargo (acquired by NorWest).

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