Banking: A Big Three with Muscle

Prestigious, 274-year-old Barclays Bank Ltd. (deposits: $5.96 billion) has long been No. 1 in British banking. But two weeks ago, it looked as if Barclays was about to lose the title. Westminster Bank, the country's fourth largest, agreed to merge with National Provincial, the fifth largest, into a combine with total deposits of $8.3 billion (TIME, Feb. 9). Last week Barclays bid to stay on top by arranging a get-together of its own—the biggest in the history of British banking.

Barclays' prospective partners are Lloyds Bank, the country's third largest, and smaller, Liverpool-based Martins Bank. With total deposits of $11.66...