The Big Four is the colloquial name for the four main banks in several countries, where the banking industry is dominated by just four institutions and where the phrase has gained currency.
Internationally, the term “Big Four Banks” has traditionally referred to the following central banks:
- The Federal Reserve
- The Bank of England
- The Bank of Japan
- The European Central Bank
In Australia, the “big four banks” refers to the four largest banks by market share, who between them hold 80% of the home loan markets in the country. In 2012, their combined total asset is A$2.66 trillion, which is about 200% of Australian GDP in 2011. In order of total assets, these are:
- National Australia Bank (NAB)
- Commonwealth Bank (CBA) (was owned by the Australian Government until 1996)
- Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ)
- Westpac (WBC)
A longstanding policy of the federal government in Australia has been to maintain this status quo, called the “four pillars policy”. The policy has been maintained through the Global Recession of 2008–09, as Westpac acquired St.George Bank and the Commonwealth Bank acquired Bankwest, reinforcing the special status of the “big four”.
Being New Zealand’s closest neighbour, with very close ties culturally and economically, has helped Australia dominate the banking sector there. Often referred to collectively as the ‘big banks’ or the ‘big Aussie banks’, the “Big Four” Australian banks also dominate the New Zealand banking sector in the form of:
- Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, or ANZ, also comprising the former business of The National Bank.
- ASB Bank, formerly Auckland Savings Bank, wholly owned by the Commonwealth Bank
- The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ), wholly owned by the National Australia Bank
- Westpac, formerly known as WestpacTrust after a merger with the Trust Bank.
Together they hold over 90% of gross loans and advances in New Zealand as well as close to 90% of all mortgages.
These four subsidiaries are massively profitable and in some cases even outperform the Australian parent companies. The extent to which they dominate the banking sector can be seen in profits: In the 2012/2013 financial year, the largest of the Big Banks, ANZ New Zealand, made a profit of NZ$1.37 billion. The smallest, BNZ, made a profit of NZ$695 million. State-owned Kiwibank, community trust-owned TSB Bank, SBS Bank (formerly Southland Building Society) and Heartland Bank, the next four largest banks by profit, made NZ$97 million, NZ$73.5 million, NZ$14 million and NZ$7 million (albeit with an underlying result of about NZ$30 million) respectively. In other words, the profit of New Zealand’s next four largest banks (after the Big Four) is equal to less than 30% of the smallest of the Big Four, BNZ.
The “Big Four” banks of Austria are:
- Erste Bank / Sparkasse* (credit unions)
- UniCredit Bank Austria (formerly Creditanstalt)
- Raiffeisen Bankengruppe*
- Österreichische Postsparkasse
*separate legal entities operating under a common brand
In Brazil, the “big four”, according to Exame Magazine in 2016:
|Itaú Unibanco||Largest Private bank||2017||US$452.6 billion|
|Banco do Brasil||Largest State Owned Bank||2017||US$430.2 billion|
|Caixa Econômica Federal||State Owned Bank||2017||US$406.0 billion|
|Banco Bradesco||Private Bank||2017||US$391.6 billion|
During the 1920s, the term “Big Four” applied to the Four Northern Banks of the Republic of China (i.e. the four most capitalized commercial banks in Northern China). These were the Yien Yieh Commercial Bank, the Kincheng Banking Corporation, the Continental Bank and The China & South Sea Bank. These were contrasted with the Three Southern Banks of Southern China.
By 1949, the Big Four banks were the Bank of China, the Bank of Communications, the Central Bank of China and the Farmers Bank of China. All four were state-owned banks. These four, together with Central Trust of China, Postal Savings and Remittance Bureau of China, Central Cooperative Treasury of China, were called the “Four Banks, Two Bureaus, One Treasury” or “四行两局一库”.
In the People’s Republic of China, the Big Four state-owned commercial banks (“四大国有商业银行”) are:
- Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
- Bank of China
- China Construction Bank
- Agricultural Bank of China
and have been described as such in the Western press. All four are state-controlled banks with commercial banking operations.
In Colombia, the ten biggest banking service networks are:
|Banco de Bogotá||Largest Private Bank||2017||COP 3.6 trillions|
|Bancolombia||Largest Private Bank||2017||COP 2.6 trillions|
|Banco Davivienda||Largest Private Bank||2017||COP 1.204 trillions|
|Banco de Occidente Credencial||Private Bank||2017||COP 932.827 billions|
|BBVA Colombia||Private Bank||2017||COP 346.333 billions|
|Banco Agrario de Colombia [es]||State owned Bank||2017||COP 339.410 billions|
|Banco Colpatria||Private Bank||2017||COP 253.572 billion|
|Banco Caja Social [es]||Private Bank||2017||COP 238.116 billions|
|Citibank Colombia||Private Bank||2017||COP 172.051 billions|
|Banco Popular [es]||Private Bank||2017||COP 156.033 billions|
In Czech Republic, according to R. Pazderník, the “big four” are:
- Česká spořitelna, subsidiary of Erste Group
- Československá obchodní banka, subsidiary of KBC Bank
- Komerční banka, subsidiary of Société Générale (formerly Státní banka československá, or State Bank of Czechoslovakia)
- Investiční a poštovní banka[cs].
In India, the term “big four” is not explixitly used. The four largest banks based on market capitalization and total assets are:
- HDFC Bank
- State Bank of India
- ICICI Bank
- Kotak Mahindra Bank
In Indonesia, the term “big four” is not explicitly used. As of 2018, the four largest banks by total assets are:
- Bank Rakyat Indonesia
- Bank Mandiri
- Bank Central Asia
- Bank Negara Indonesia
In Ireland, the term “big four” applies to the four largest banks by market capitalisation. These all operate in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and have a wider international presence; these banks also issue banknotes in Northern Ireland.
- Bank of Ireland
- Allied Irish Banks (operates as First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland)
- Ulster Bank – Subsidiary of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group since 2000/2001
Ever since Danske Bank has phased out its personal banking services, it has been suggested that either KBC Ireland or Permanent TSB could replace, in the medium-term, Danske Bank in the “Big Four” ranking.
In Japan, the term “big three” is used instead of “big four”. The “big three” are:
- Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group
- Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group
- Mizuho Financial Group
In Lebanon, where the banks have retained their banking secrecy laws since 1956, which is prevalent in the whole MENA region, and while adopting international measures to fight money laundering, the “big four” banks consist of:
- Audi Saradar Bank (founded in 1830 and ranked on the Forbes Magazine Global 2000 list of largest public companies in the world in 2016)
- Byblos Bank (founded in 1950 as “Société Commerciale et Agricole Byblos Bassil Frères & Co.”)
- BLOM Bank: Banque du Liban et d’Outre-Mer S.A.L (founded in 1951)
- Fransabank (founded in 1921 as Société Centrale de Banque)
Furthermore, as of September 2016, there are more than 51 banks in Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the middle east, the fact that has always made investors from the Arab countries, especially the GCC petrodollar in addition to the European and world investors, to place their funds in the Lebanese banks.
The big four full-service in Luxembourg are:
- Banque et Caisse d’Épargne de l’État (Spuerkeess), state owned bank
- Banque Internationale à Luxembourg,
- BGL BNP Paribas
- ING Luxembourg
There are bigger banks in Luxembourg, but these only deliver a limited number of services such as investment banking, private banking or corporate banking only. Luxembourg is a financial center.
The “big four” in Mexico are:
- BBVA Bancomer
- Banco Santander
The “big four” banks in the Netherlands by market concentration are:
- ING Group
- ABN AMRO
- de Volksbank, state owned banking arm of SNS Reaal
The market leader for the Netherlands, ING Group, is one of the largest multinational banking and financial service corporations in the world, with products and services reaching over 41 countries worldwide.
The term “Big Five” is used instead of four, with five banks dominating the Nigerian banking world. In 2011, these top five banks had a combined balance sheet, including contingents, of 12.9 trillion naira ($821 billion), 33 percent higher than the prior year.
- Zenith Bank
- First Bank of Nigeria
- Guaranty Trust Bank
- Access Bank
- United Bank for Africa (UBA)
The “top five” banks of Pakistan are:
- Habib Bank
- MCB Bank Limited
- National Bank of Pakistan
- United Bank
- Allied Bank Limited
There are four banks that have at least ₱1 trillion (around US$20 billion) worth of assets as of 2017, making them the “big four” banks by default:
- Banco de Oro
- Land Bank of the Philippines
- Bank of the Philippine Islands
In Portugal, the “big four” are:
- Banco Comercial Português
- Banco Português de Investimento
- Caixa Geral de Depósitos (state-owned)
- Novo Banco (former Banco Espírito Santo)
In Singapore, the “big three” are:
- DBS Bank, also comprising the POSB Bank.
- OCBC Bank
- United Overseas Bank
In South Africa, the “big four” are:
- Absa Group Limited, majority owned by Barclays between 2005 and early 2018.
- FirstRand Bank (operators of First National Bank)
- Nedbank – minority-owned by Old Mutual.
- Standard Bank (Spun off from Standard Chartered Bank in 1987)
In South Korea the “Big Four” are:
- KB Kookmin Bank
- Shinhan Bank
- Woori Bank
- KEB Hana Bank
In Spain, the “big four” are, as of March 2017:
- Banco Santander
There were formerly a “big six” (los seis grandes) composed of three banks that are now part of BBVA (Banco de Bilbao, Banco de Vizcaya, and Banco Argentaria) and three now combined as Santander (Banco Central, Banco Hispanoamericano, and Banco de Santander).
In Sweden, the “big four” are:
- Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken
Before the Siamese Revolution, the banking system were controlled by foreign powers, particularly the “big four” European banks.
- The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank in 1888 (Now HSBC)
- The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China in 1894 (Now Standard Chartered Bank Thailand)
- Banque de l’Indochine in 1897 (Now Banque Calyon, a subsidiary of Crédit Agricole)
- Mercantile Bank of India in 1923 (Now Citibank Thailand, a subsidiary of Citigroup)
in 2014, the “big four” Bank Together they hold over 66% of gross loans and controlling more than 67% of total assets in banking system
- Bangkok Bank
- Siam Commercial Bank
- Krung Thai Bank
United Arab Emirates
Based on total assets of listed banks at the end of 2017, big five banks in United Arab Emirates are:
- First Abu Dhabi Bank
- Emirates NBD
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank
- Dubai Islamic Bank
In relation to England and Wales, the phrase “big four banks” is currently used to refer to the four largest banking groups:
- Lloyds Banking Group; and
- The Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
In relation to Scotland, the phrase “big four” is currently used to refer to the four largest banking groups:
- The Royal Bank of Scotland (“RBS”) (part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group);
- Bank of Scotland (part of Lloyds Banking Group);
- Clydesdale Bank (part of CYBG plc); and
- TSB Bank (now owned by Banco Sabadell ).
Until 1970, the phrase “big five banks” was used to refer to the five largest UK clearing banks (institutions which clear bankers’ cheques), which in England and Wales were:
- Barclays Bank (now part of Barclays);
- Midland Bank (now HSBC Bank and part of HSBC);
- Lloyds Bank (now part of Lloyds Banking Group);
- National Provincial Bank and
- Westminster Bank
After the merger of Westminster Bank and National Provincial Bank to form NatWest (now part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group) in 1970, the term “big four” was used.
In the United States, the “big four” banks hold 39% of all U.S. customer deposits (as of 2015), and consist of:
- Bank of America (headquartered and bank chartered in Charlotte, North Carolina)
- Citigroup (headquartered in New York, New York, bank chartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
- JPMorgan Chase (headquartered in New York, New York, bank chartered in Columbus, Ohio)
- Wells Fargo (headquartered in San Francisco, California, bank chartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
From a retail banking perspective, U.S. Bancorp (headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota/bank charter Cincinnati, Ohio) and PNC Financial Services (headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/bank charter Wilmington, Delaware) both have significantly more branches than Citibank, the retail banking arm of Citigroup. However, Citibank still has significantly more assets than U.S. Bancorp and PNC.
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