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American banks have become some of the biggest personal data processors in the world–and that’s not always a good thing.

Since the 1920s banks have collected personal data, often clumsily, inefficiently and rarely centralized given that the relationship with most customers was often a local one. Banking clients relied on their local broker, teller, or advisor to have enough knowledge about them to make sound advice and offer personalized service. A client’s personal information often was entrusted in the hands of a few local bank employees and kept in a secured cabinet or server, backed up centrally as a precaution. The relationship between bank and local client was respectfully confidential, and that confidentiality was a function of local people’s good judgment to practice data discretion and privacy respect. In fact, any compromise of a client’s personal data was often a local event, a local story at most, and contained to relatively few players. For decades it was the George Bailey philosophy of managing and protecting people’s personal information. That world no longer exists.

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