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What Is a Bank Run? Definition, Examples, and How It Works


What Is a Bank Run? Definition, Examples, and How It Works

Few terms carry as much weight and historical significance as “bank run.” It’s a phrase that can send shivers down the spine of even the most seasoned bankers and economists. But what exactly is a bank run? In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the definition of a bank run, explore real-world examples, and dissect how this phenomenon works. So, fasten your seatbelt as we embark on this journey through the intricacies of financial panic.

Understanding Bank Runs

A bank run occurs when a large number of a bank’s customers simultaneously rush to withdraw their deposits, fearing that the bank might become insolvent and they will lose their money. This mass withdrawal can trigger a vicious cycle, potentially leading to the bank’s collapse.

The Mechanics of a Bank Run

Bank runs are driven by fear and panic. Let’s break down the key components of how a bank run unfolds:

1. Loss of Confidence

It typically starts with a rumor, news report, or a hint of financial instability within the bank. This uncertainty erodes the confidence of depositors.

2. The First Withdrawals

As the news spreads, a small group of depositors, often referred to as “early birds,” rush to the bank to withdraw their funds. Their actions are driven by the fear of losing their savings.

3. Panic Spreads

The sight of a line forming at the bank and people frantically withdrawing money further fuels panic. More depositors start to withdraw their funds, fearing that if they wait, there won’t be anything left.

4. Bank’s Response

Banks typically try to calm the situation by assuring depositors of their stability. They may even impose withdrawal limits. However, in the midst of panic, these measures often prove ineffective.

5. Escalation

As the panic intensifies, the bank’s liquidity drains rapidly. This forces the bank to sell assets at fire-sale prices, incurring losses and potentially pushing it closer to insolvency.

Real-World Examples

Great Depression (1929)

One of the most famous bank runs in history occurred during the Great Depression. Widespread economic turmoil led to a loss of confidence in the banking system. Panicked depositors rushed to withdraw their savings, leading to the collapse of numerous banks.

Northern Rock (2007)

In the more recent past, the Northern Rock bank run in the United Kingdom serves as an example. News of its financial troubles led to a massive withdrawal of deposits, eventually requiring a government bailout to prevent a complete collapse.

How Bank Runs Impact the Economy

Bank runs have severe consequences not only for the banks involved but also for the broader economy:

  • Economic Instability: Bank runs can trigger financial crises, causing economic turmoil and recession.
  • Loss of Savings: Depositors who cannot withdraw their funds lose their savings, which can have a long-lasting impact on their financial well-being.
  • Regulatory Reforms: Historically, bank runs have led to the implementation of stricter banking regulations to prevent future crises.


In this article, we’ve delved into the world of bank runs, understanding their mechanics, exploring real-world examples, and considering their broader economic impacts. Bank runs are not merely historical footnotes; they remain relevant in today’s financial landscape as potential triggers for economic instability. As investors and depositors, it’s crucial to be informed about these events and their implications.

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