How we can help small banks compete

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Add another unintended consequence to the list of problems with the bank bailouts: It's making it harder for smaller institutions to compete.

FDIC chief Sheila Bair told the USA Today that "It's become explicit when it was implicit before. It creates competitive disparities between large and small institutions, because everybody knows small institutions can fail. So it's more expensive for them to raise capital and secure funding."

This is patently unfair: The current crisis was caused by incompetent management at big banks, but taxpayers footed the bill to prevent them from suffering because of their actions.

Now the implicit government guarantee that's been handed to these banks is putting smaller institutions that don't pose systemic risk at a competitive disadvantage. Luckily, there's something all of us can do to help: Stop doing business with big banks that have received TARP money, and work exclusively with smaller institutions and credit unions.

There are a number of benefits: You'll get better service and the people who are helping you will have IQs at least as big as their shoe sizes -- this is generally not the case when you call customer service at Bank of America.

Even better, switching to a small local bank will help to ease the risks posed by having financial institutions that are too big to fail. A number of observers have suggested that institutions like Bank of America and Citigroup be broken up into several smaller banks to lessen the systemic risk -- you can help that process along by pulling any deposits you have from those banks!

So please: if you're a Bank of America customer, cut all ties with that bank as soon as possible, and switch to a small local bank. And tell your friends to do the same thing!
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