1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trust Company

TRUST COMPANY, the name given to a form of fiduciary corporation, originally adopted in the United States under state laws to accomplish financial objects not specially provided for under the national banking system. The function which gives a trust company its name is to execute trusts for individuals, estates and corporations. In the United States, however, these functions have been extended to include many of those of commercial banks receiving deposits payable on demand and subject to check. The relations between trust companies and their depositors are based, however, upon different principles from those between the bank and its client (see Banks and Banking). The larger trust companies prefer deposit accounts which, even when subject to check, are not actively drawn upon. The fact that they pay interest on such deposits absolves them from the obligation to extend accommodation by way of loans, except upon collateral security. Hence out of the difference in their relations with depositors grows a difference in the character of their investments, which are usually in loans on stock exchange securities and not on commercial paper discounted. In New York they are prohibited from directly discounting commercial paper, but not from buying it. The rate of interest paid on demand deposits is usually 2% for small accounts, and 3% for large accounts; for time deposits it is sometimes more.

In the administration of estates for private individuals, the trust company has taken the place to a large extent of individual attorneys. The trust company has the advantage of corporate responsibility, which involves continuous life, and of proper offices, fire-proof safes, and special employees in each department devoting their time and attention exclusively to their special functions. Investments for estates are limited by law, like savings bank investments, to certain classes of securities, and a trust company has little temptation to violate such laws. It is customary, moreover, for investments of trust funds to be made by authority of the board of directors, thus protecting the estate against the uncertainties of individual judgment.

The trust company has found a special field in America as agent of railway and industrial corporations in the issue, transfer and exchange of securities. For these purposes it has an organized system, tested by experience, more perfect in its operation and less expensive than each corporation could organize for itself separately. As trustee for the bondholders under a railway mortgage, for instance, it becomes the duty of the trust company, in case of default in payment of interest on the bonds, to take steps to foreclose the mortgage and protect the bondholders. Trust companies have sometimes been named as receivers of failed banks.

The big industrial combinations in America have contributed to the business of the trust companies as registrars or transfer agents for capital stock, agents for the issue of bonds and payment of interest thereon, agents for underwriting and distributing new securities, and depositories of securities and cash under plans of reorganization or while held in escrow. In the case of the reorganization of the tobacco companies, in the autumn of 1904, securities aggregating about $600,000,000 passed through the hands of the trust company charged with the work; and while this was the largest single operation of its kind, it is typical of many similar operations resulting from the activity in the creation of new companies in America which bring business to trust companies.

The attractions offered by the trust company to the non-commercial depositor by the payment of interest on his deposit built up the deposit balances of trust companies rapidly after 1896. Their competition in this respect with national banks soon led to an effort to compel trust companies to keep cash reserves against their deposits. This demand was resisted for a while, but in 1903 a rule was made by the New York Clearing House requiring trust companies to keep certain reserves. The alternative was to withdraw from the Clearing House, and this all but a few did. The New York legislature, however, at the session of 1906, passed an act requiring trust companies in New York city to establish within fixed dates reserves of 15% of their deposits, of which only 5% was required to be currency, 5% might be on deposit in another banking institution, and 5% might be kept in certain classes of bonds.

The experience of the panic of 1907 developed several weaknesses in the position of the trust companies, and in New York led a special commission appointed b Governor Hughes to recommend much stronger reserves. The fact that the trust companies relied upon the national banks to meet the heavy demands upon them for currency doubled the strain imposed on the national banks of New York city, and the isolation of the trust companies through their withdrawal from the Clearing House in 1903 made it difficult to bring about co-operation in support of those which were subjected to severe runs. Between the 22nd of August and the 19th of December 1907 the deposits of the trust companies of New York declined by the sum of more than $275,000,000 while deposits in national banks increased about $50,000,000.

The number, resources and activities of trust companies have shown a rapid development. In New York the general law under which companies can be formed without a special act dates only from 1887, but several companies ante-date this law. The following figures[1] from reports made to the comptroller of the currency speak for themselves:—

Trust Companies of the United States.

30th June. Number. Capital. Individual Deposits.
1891 171 79,292,339 355,330,030
1897 251 106,968,253 566,922,205
1900 290 126,930,845 1,028,232,407
1901 334 137,361,704 1,271,031,174
1902 417 179,732,531 1,525,337,493
1903 531 232,307,735 1,539,393,796
1904 535 237,745,433 1,600,322,325
1905 683 243,133,622 1,930,355,737
1906 742 263,334,337 2,003,937,790
1907 794 276,146,081 2,061,623,035

Approximately half of the deposits in United States trust companies are in the state of New York, the number of such companies in New York about the 30th of June 1907, being 88, with a capital of $67,850,000, and deposits of $1,020,678,220. The next highest states in amount of deposits were Pennsylvania, with 328 companies, with capital of $103,953,067 and deposits of $381,397,305; and Massachusetts, with 46 companies, with capita of $16,677,000 and deposits of $179,278,436.

See Kirkbride and Sterrett, The Modern Trust Company (New York, 1905).  (C. A. C.) 

  1. The table, it may be observed, represents only the number of companies reporting and not the number actually in existence. Kirkbride and Sterrett, for example, give the number of trust companies in the United States on the 1st of January 1905 as 1427, or more than twice the number given here for 1905. On this point the comptroller of the Treasury in 1905 said: “ In order to obtain this information [from institutions other than national banks] the comptroller is necessarily dependent upon the courtesy of officers of different states, and upon individual banks in states the laws of which states do not provide for compilation of data of this character Each year one or more states formerly without adequate provision for obtaining and compiling reports of banks incorporated under their laws, have through legislative enactment, placed such banks under the supervision of an official whose duty it is to receive and tabulate the reports so required, which information is placed at the dis sal of the comptroller. Every year this office is thereby enabled to publish official, and hence more reliable statistics .... "