On Wall Street, there's a benefit to developing into something big and complex.
America's seven biggest banks now have more than 14,500 subsidiaries around the world, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (h/t Bloomberg). They have hatched more than 10,000 of these subsidiaries since 1991, largely in an aim to skirt regulations and taxes, according to the report.
By stashing assets in foreign subsidiaries, banks can avoid U.S. taxes since the assets are subject to taxes in the country in which they are held. In addition, if the subsidiaries are in tax havens, the companies can pay taxes at a super low rate or, in some cases, not at all.
The boost in foreign subsidiaries is part of a larger trend of wealthy people and corporations finding creative ways to avoid paying taxes. Thirty of America's most profitable companies didn't pay anything in income taxes from 2008 to 2010, according to a November report from the Citizens for Tax Justice. In addition, wealthy people and their families hold between $21 and $32 trillion, or between 30 and 46 percent of global GDP, in offshore tax havens, according to a new report by former McKinsey chief economist James Henry on behalf of the Tax Justice Network.
Roughly one-third -- or 4,822 -- of the bank's subsidiaries are foreign, according to the New York Fed. They hold 29 percent of these banks' assets. The most popular destinations for these subsidiaries is Europe, followed by the Caribbean and then Asia.
In addition to paying lower taxes by moving some of their assets and operations to lower-tax countries, big banks have also have been avoiding regulations they find "burdensome," according to the New York Fed. The authors of the paper also wrote that big banks may have become this complex to make it more difficult for people to make claims in the event of a bankruptcy.
Check out the number of subsidiaries that the U.S.' seven largest banks have, according to the New York Fed:
- JPMorgan Chase: 3,391 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $2.27 trillion.
- Goldman Sachs: 3,115 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $924 billion.
- Morgan Stanley: 2,884 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $750 billion.
- Bank of America: 2,019 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $2.14 trillion.
- Citigroup: 1,645 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $1.87 trillion.
- Wells Fargo: 1,366 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $1.31 trillion.
- MetLife: 163 subsidiaries, with a total asset value of $800 billion.