The term Glass–Steagall Act usually refers to four provisions of the U.S. Banking Act of 1933 that limited commercial bank securities activities and affiliations within commercial banks and securities firms.
Congressional efforts to “repeal the Glass–Steagall Act” referred to those four provisions (and then usually to only the two provisions that restricted affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms).
Those efforts culminated in the 1999 Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA), which repealed the two provisions restricting affiliations between banks and securities firms.
The term Glass–Steagall Act is also often used to refer to the entire Banking Act of 1933, after its Congressional sponsors, Senator Carter Glass (D) of Virginia, and Representative Henry B. Steagall (D) of Alabama.
This article deals with only the four provisions separating commercial and investment banking. The article 1933 Banking Act describes the entire law, including the legislative history of the Glass-Steagall provisions separating commercial and investment banking.
A separate 1932 law also known as the Glass–Steagall Act is described in the article Glass–Steagall Act of 1932. Starting in the early 1960s federal banking regulators interpreted provisions of the Glass–Steagall Act to permit commercial banks and especially commercial bank affiliates to engage in an expanding list and volume of securities activities.
By the time the affiliation restrictions in the Glass–Steagall Act were repealed through the GLBA, many commentators argued Glass–Steagall was already “dead.” Most notably, Citibank’s 1998 affiliation with Salomon Smith Barney, one of the largest US securities firms, was permitted under the Federal Reserve Board’s then existing interpretation of the Glass–Steagall Act.
President Bill Clinton publicly declared “the Glass–Steagall law is no longer appropriate.” Many commentators have stated that the GLBA’s repeal of the affiliation restrictions of the Glass–Steagall Act was an important cause of the late-2000s financial crisis.
Some critics of that repeal argue it permitted Wall Street investment banking firms to gamble with their depositors’ money that was held in affiliated commercial banks. Others have argued that the activities linked to the financial crisis were not prohibited (or, in most cases, even regulated) by the Glass–Steagall Act.
Commentators, including former President Clinton in 2008 and the American Bankers Association in January 2010, have also argued that the ability of commercial banking firms to acquire securities firms (and of securities firms to convert into bank holding companies) helped mitigate the financial crisis.