WASHINGTON In the final months of the Trump administration, the Department of Justice launched a plan to consider changes to its bank-merger review process, raising industry hopes that the outdated regime would be overhauled.
But that was before the November election. With the Biden administration now calling the shots and the department led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, progressives are now urging the DOJ to institute a tougher review process to address branch closures and other potential economic harms for lower-income consumers posed by consolidation.
The general direction of merger review has turned 180 degrees since the 2020 election, said Jeremy Kress, a business law professor at the University of Michigan and a former attorney at the Federal Reserve, where he advised the agency on bank merger approvals. When the Trump administration started reviewing the bank merger standards, it was telegraphing that it was planning to loosen the standards to make them easier to pass. I do not expect that the Biden administration will follow through in that direction.
In September, the DOJ invited public comment on a plan to update reviews of bank mergers for antitrust concerns. The department released more than a dozen questions including whether the process should scrutinize online lenders more closely and whether rural areas should have different market-concentration thresholds than urban areas. The comment period ended Oct. 16.
At his confirmation hearing, now-Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would “vigorously“ enforce antitrust law. “I take it very seriously and have throughout my entire career, he said.