Big Four (banking)

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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.


In Australia, the "big four banks" refers to the four largest banks[1] by market share, who between them hold 85% 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. These are:

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".


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).[2] 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".[3]

Currently, in the People's Republic of China, the Big Four commercial banks ("四大商业银行") are:

and have been described as such in the western press. All four are state-owned banks with commercial banking operations.


In Ireland, the term "big four" applies to the four largest banks by market capitalisation.[4][5] These all operate in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and have a wider international presence.[6]

With the recent announcement that Danske Bank are to reduce their operations in the Republic of Ireland, many in the industry have argued that KBC Bank Ireland have replaced them as part of the Big Four Banks.[citation needed]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, the "big four" are:[9]


In Sweden, the "big four" are:[10]

United Kingdom[edit]

In relation to the United Kingdom, the phrase "big four banks" is currently used to refer to the four largest UK-based banking groups, being:

During most of the 20th century, the phrase "big four banks" was used to refer to the four largest UK clearing banks (institutions which act as clearing houses for bankers' cheques), which were:

United States[edit]

In the United States, the "big four" banks hold 39% of all U.S. customer deposits (as of 2009), and consist of:[14][15]

From a purely retail banking perspective, U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services both have significantly more branches than Citibank, the retail banking arm of Citigroup.[16] However, Citibank still has significantly more assets than U.S. Bancorp and PNC.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ABC news story
  2. ^ Four Northern Banks
  3. ^ Yao Sui: Chinese Finance History, High Education Publisher in 2007, Beijing. (in Chinese: 《中国金融史》,姚遂主编,高等教育出版社,2007年版)
  4. ^ "Anglo Irish Bank Corporation (Executive Summary)". SME Financial. Retrieved 2012-01-17 "...The only banks with higher market capitalisation were Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and Bank of Ireland, both with strong retail and commercial presences. Ulster Bank and National Irish Bank are the other members of the ‘Big Four’ retail and commercial banks, both owned by overseas parents and not listed on the Irish Stock Exchange". 
  5. ^ Hardiman, Cyril (12 February 2005). "'Big Four' Northern banks face probe on pricing and competition claims". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  6. ^ "Cross-Border Personal Banking in Ireland". Centre for Cross-Border Studies. Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  7. ^ "AIB's First Trust refunds £350,000 to customers over fee error". Retrieved 2012-01-17. 
  8. ^ "Northern Bank to close four branches". BBC News. 16 January 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  9. ^ "Banks and foreign exchange in SA". Brand South Africa. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  10. ^ Östlund, Carl-Viggo. "Kunderna gisslan hos storbankerna (The customers held hostage by the big banks) (swedish)". 
  11. ^ "UK banks prepare for inevitable shake-up - sources". Reuters. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  12. ^ "UK to prioritise taxpayers as bank shake-up looms". Reuters. 10 April 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  13. ^ The Big Four by D Rogers
  14. ^ "Citigroup posts 4th straight loss; Merrill loss widens". USA Today. Associated Press. October 16, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  15. ^ Temple, James; The Associated Press (November 18, 2008). "Bay Area job losses likely in Citigroup layoffs". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 5 December 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  16. ^ Banks Ranked by Number of Branches
  17. ^ Banks Ranked by Total Assets