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Introduction to US Bank Holding Companies

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Introduction to US Bank Holding Companies

Posted by: Christian Reeves
Category: Bank Holding Company, Business Planning, International Bank License
Introduction to US Bank Holding Companies

In the financial ecosystem, various entities work in harmony to keep the flow of money, investments, and transactions running smoothly. One such crucial entity is the “Bank Holding Company” (BHC). Though the term might seem intimidating to the layperson, understanding what a bank holding company is and the rules that govern it is essential to grasping the larger financial structure.

What Is a Bank Holding Company?

A bank holding company is a corporation that owns or controls one or more banks but does not necessarily engage in banking itself. In other words, a BHC serves as the parent company to one or more subsidiary banks, providing an umbrella structure that facilitates administrative functions, resource management, and strategic direction. Bank holding companies may also own other financial institutions or non-banking businesses, but their primary purpose is to manage and control banks.

Functions and Advantages

Risk Mitigation: One of the most vital roles of a bank holding company is that it isolates risks by distributing them among different subsidiaries. Each subsidiary operates as an independent entity, shielding the entire organization from systemic risk.

Capital Allocation: A BHC can move capital more efficiently among its subsidiaries, making it easier to allocate resources where they are needed most.

Diversification: Bank holding companies can own various types of businesses, not just banks. This diversification can provide additional revenue streams and reduce the overall risk profile.

Regulatory Benefits: Some BHCs are structured to take advantage of favorable banking laws, such as easier access to emergency capital from the Federal Reserve.

Strategic Control: A BHC allows for centralized control and governance, which can lead to more efficient business operations.

When is a Bank Holding Company Required?

In the United States

In the United States, any company that owns, controls, or has the power to vote 25% or more of the voting shares of a bank is considered a bank holding company and is required to register with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System under the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956. Other criteria for being considered a BHC include having the ability to elect the majority of the board directors of a bank or having the power to exercise a controlling influence over the bank’s management or policies.

Note that it is possible to avoid the  HBC regulations for international banks in the US territory of Puerto Rico. This is a topic of our next article.

Global Scenario

The requirements can differ in other jurisdictions, where ownership thresholds or other criteria may apply. Regulations and registration requirements vary, but the objective remains the same: to oversee and ensure the stability of the financial system.

Regulatory Oversight

Bank holding companies are subject to stringent regulatory oversight to protect consumers and maintain the health of the financial system. In the United States, they are regulated by the Federal Reserve, while in other countries, other governmental or non-governmental bodies may perform this function.


Understanding the concept of a bank holding company, its functions, and the rules that govern it can be crucial for anyone involved in the financial industry. As a complex but vital part of the financial ecosystem, bank holding companies play a key role in maintaining the stability and efficiency of banking operations globally.