What happened to Silicon Valley Bank and Why did it Fail? Lessons for Niche Banks

Silicon Valley Bank

Silicon Valley Bank, which was once a symbol of the thriving tech industry, has recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons. After four decades in business, the bank was forced to close its doors in early 2023, leaving its clients stranded and its investors reeling. So, what led to the bank’s downfall, and what can we learn from it?

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was a key player in the US banking industry, providing services to nearly half of the country’s venture capital-backed technology and life-science companies, and to more than 2,500 venture capital firms. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the bank recently failed and was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). This article explores the factors that led to SVB’s collapse and the potential risks faced by other niche banks.

The Shortcomings of SVB’s Investment Strategy

For decades, Silicon Valley Bank followed a tried-and-true banking strategy. Like most banks, it kept a small portion of its deposits in cash and invested the rest in long-term debt like Treasury bonds. This approach allowed the bank to earn steady, modest returns on its investments while minimizing risk.

However, this strategy proved to be shortsighted. The bank had not anticipated the overheating of the broader economy after more than a year of pandemic stimulus, and as a result, it was left in a precarious position when the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates to combat rapid inflation. The once-safe investments in long-term debt no longer looked attractive, as newer government bonds offered higher interest rates.

Challenges Faced by Niche Banks

While rising interest rates were a significant factor in Silicon Valley Bank’s demise, they were not the only one. The bank was uniquely vulnerable to changes in the tech industry because it had concentrated its business in this sector. When start-up funding began to dwindle, the bank’s clients – a mix of technology start-ups and their executives – started to tap into their accounts more, leading to increased withdrawals.

The bank also had a significant number of big, uninsured depositors – the kind of investors who tend to withdraw their money during signs of turbulence. To fulfill its customers’ requests, the bank had to sell some of its investments at a steep discount, which resulted in further losses.

The Risk of Contagion

SVB’s demise has raised concerns about the risks faced by small and midsize niche banks. These banks tend to focus on niche businesses and can be more vulnerable to bank runs than their larger peers. While SVB and Signature Bank’s collapses were the second and third largest in history, respectively, they are small compared to the nation’s largest banks. However, bank runs can occur when customers or investors panic and start withdrawing their deposits, potentially leading to a contagion of collapses that could destabilize the banking system and cause an economic crisis.

Lessons Learned for Niche Banks

Niche banks must take a lesson from SVB’s collapse and strengthen their risk management practices. They must diversify their portfolios to reduce their vulnerability to changes in any one industry or market. They should also establish appropriate contingency plans to ensure they can meet customer demands during times of turbulence. Additionally, niche banks must focus on building and maintaining customer trust, as bank runs can occur when customers lose confidence in their financial institution.


SVB’s collapse is a cautionary tale for niche banks. It highlights the importance of effective risk management, diversification, and contingency planning. While the failure of a single niche bank may not pose a systemic risk to the banking system, it can erode public confidence and lead to a contagion of collapses. As such, niche banks must remain vigilant and take steps to mitigate their risks.


Meet The Editor JJ, an experienced financial professional committed to empowering individuals with expert guidance. With an MBA and CPA qualifications, The Editor JJ brings over 15 years of diverse financial management experience. Having personally assisted over 600 individuals in debt reduction and wealth accumulation, The Editor JJ's dedication to financial freedom is evident. Utilizing personal and professional insights, The Editor JJ addresses complex financial challenges. Through JJs FinClub, he simplifies concepts and offers actionable advice for readers to seize control of their financial futures.

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