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The banking sector is one of the oldest and most established industries in the world. Banks have provided the financial cornerstone for countless towns, cities and nations worldwide for centuries, and the products and services they offer continue to grow in breadth and complexity.

Banks still provide standby offerings such as checking and savings accounts, safe deposit boxes, consumer and commercial loans, certificates of deposit and IRA accounts. Customers can still make change, purchase traveler’s checks, obtain notary services and cash checks.

Banks also issue notes and bonds of various types and maturities. They are also on the cutting edge of the technological revolution in many ways. Internet banking, credit and debit cards, ATMs and automatic bill payment are just some of the electronic services available to customers today. Most banks also provide specialized services such as investment management, trust departments and overnight treasury deposits. But the main source of profit for most banks still comes from the spread that they earn from investing and loaning out their customer deposits.

Retail banks can take many forms, such as commercial banks, private banks, community banks, savings banks, postal savings banks, offshore banks and even ethical banks. These banks tend to focus more on individual customers, while investment banks underwrite securities and merchant banks engage in trade finance. The aggregate assets of the largest thousand banks in the world totaled just over 74 trillion dollars in 2007, over half of which was concentrated in European banks. The U.S. has the most banks of any country in the world in terms of separate branches and institutions.

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