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Zombie Bank


A zombie bank is a financial institution that is insolvent or near insolvency but continues to operate, primarily due to government support or bailouts. These banks are unable to meet their debt obligations, resulting in a negative net worth. However, they carry on with their business activities, prolonging their failure and potentially burdening the financial system.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Zombie Bank” is:/ˈzɒmbi bæŋk/ or ZOM-bee bangk

Key Takeaways

  1. Zombie banks are financial institutions that are insolvent or nearly insolvent but continue to operate due to government support or bailouts.
  2. These banks have large amounts of non-performing loans and liabilities, making it difficult for them to provide credit or contribute to economic growth.
  3. Zombie banks can be a drag on the economy as they hinder the proper functioning of capital markets, may require taxpayer support, and could potentially lead to financial crises.


The term “Zombie Bank” holds significant importance in the business and finance world as it refers to financial institutions that are essentially insolvent but continue to operate, often due to government support or bailouts. A Zombie Bank’s liabilities exceed its assets, rendering it incapable of generating new loans or providing returns for investors. The existence of such banks can have detrimental effects on an economy, as they consume resources that could be allocated to healthier institutions and hinder economic recovery during financial crises or recessions. Understanding the risks and implications associated with Zombie Banks is crucial for policymakers, regulators, and investors to make informed decisions and potentially prevent systemic financial meltdowns.


Zombie banks, typically arising during times of financial instability and economic downturns, serve the inadvertent purpose of exemplifying the need for restructuring and improved regulations in the financial sector. These banks, despite appearing operational on the surface, have liabilities that exceed their assets, rendering them insolvent. Historically, governments and regulators have used these insolvent institutions as a means of maintaining financial stability in the economy. By providing financial assistance in the form of bailouts and low-interest loans, they can prevent these banks from immediate collapse and the triggering of chain reactions that could lead to a more widespread financial crisis. Amidst their apparent function as ‘economic safety nets,’ zombie banks tend to stagnate the growth and recovery of the broader financial market. With a bulk of their available capital allocated towards recovering from their non-performing loans, these banks are less capable of extending credit to small businesses and individuals, thereby stifling economic growth. Furthermore, as their focus is primarily on restructuring existing liabilities, it reduces incentives for the management to innovate and adapt to the evolving market demands. It is for these reasons that zombie banks are often seen as an unintended consequence in a financial crisis, perpetuating a stagnant economic state while underlining the importance of sound financial practices and effective regulatory oversight to prevent their reemergence in the future.


1. Savings and Loans Crisis in the United States (1980s): This crisis was related to the collapse of over 1,000 savings and loan associations in the US due to unsound lending practices and financial fraud. Many of these institutions became “zombie banks” as they were technically insolvent but were bailed out and supported by the government to avoid potential systemic risks arising from multiple bank failures. 2. Japanese Banking Crisis in the 1990s: Japan experienced an asset price bubble in the late 1980s, which burst and led to a prolonged recession in the early 1990s. During this time, several Japanese banks became “zombie banks” as their balance sheets were burdened by toxic loans and non-performing assets. These banks continued to operate with the help of government support and a lack of strict regulation, which eventually resulted in the “lost decade” as Japan’s economy stagnated. 3. The 2008 Financial Crisis and Post-Crisis European Banks: After the 2008 global financial crisis, several European banks were left with high levels of non-performing loans and toxic assets on their balance sheets, rendering them “zombie banks.” Countries that were hit hardest by the crisis, like Spain, Italy, and Greece, saw more instances of such banks. Some European banks have required government bailouts or assistance since they were unable to function financially without external support. Despite restructuring and regulatory measures aimed at addressing the issue, some of these banks continue to struggle today.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Zombie Bank?
A Zombie Bank is a financial institution that has an economic net worth less than zero, but continues to operate as a result of government support or the belief that it will receive such support. These banks are essentially insolvent but remain open due to temporary factors such as governmental assistance or market fluctuations.
How does a bank become a Zombie Bank?
A bank typically becomes a Zombie Bank when it suffers severe losses, typically caused by a high number of non-performing loans or bad investments, which render the bank unable to meet its obligations. The bank’s liabilities exceed its assets, and it becomes insolvent; however, the government may step in to provide support, allowing it to continue operating.
Why are Zombie Banks problematic?
Zombie Banks contribute to the inefficient allocation of resources, as they continue to provide loans and financial services despite being insolvent. The continued existence of Zombie Banks may lead to a loss of confidence in the financial system, stifle economic growth, and eventually burden taxpayers with their bailouts. Moreover, they may prevent new and healthier banks from entering the market.
How are Zombie Banks identified?
Identifying Zombie Banks can be challenging, as they often continue to report positive financial results due to government support or creative accounting practices. Some indicators of a potential Zombie Bank include a high percentage of non-performing loans, persistent governmental assistance, negative net worth, and reliance on short-term funding.
What actions can be taken to address Zombie Banks?
There are several potential solutions to address the problem of Zombie Banks, including government intervention, insolvency proceedings, mergers with healthier banks, debt restructuring, or implementing stricter regulations to prevent banks from becoming financially distressed. Ideally, financial institutions should be adequately capitalized and regulated to minimize the risks of insolvency.
Have there been any notable historical examples of Zombie Banks?
Yes, a famous example of Zombie Banks emerged during Japan’s “Lost Decade” in the 1990s, where many financial institutions were severely affected by the bursting of a real estate and stock market bubble. Additionally, during the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, several banks in the United States and Europe faced the risk of becoming Zombie Banks before receiving government support.

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