Bourree Lam and Gillian White discuss It's a Wonderful Life and banking; here are some highlights:
Lam: I actually think the movie does a good job of portraying the downsides of what it means to be both a "good" bank (one that lends to people who need it, but is likely over-leveraged) and a "bad" bank (a more profitable one that loans at high interest rates and only provides credit to people who already have money). But there are also inherent moral judgments about the way a bank should work that come across as too black-and-white. For example, when Potter asks Bailey, "Are you running a business or a charity?" we know it's not mutually exclusive like that. After all, a bank ideally would help people reach financial goals while also turning a profit.
White: I think part of what makes It's a Wonderful Life such an appealing movie is that people can easily rally around Bailey as the savior of the community. He's a hard-working and self-sacrificing businessman, who is helping out his neighbors. In the end, the community saves itself. I think what's interesting is that in reality, many places probably didn't have a George Bailey. And certainly now--with bank consolidation--there are fewer and fewer neighborhood financial institutions and certainly fewer individuals who could help bridge those gaps. In those instances, people who are having a hard time would have much less heart-warming options: government services or dangerous, expensive short-term loans, like payday or auto titles.