Fine-spatial analysis | Small municipalities

Micro-banks: Mini banks under pressure

A few weeks ago, on a beautiful Saturday at the beginning of August, what had been Germany's smallest bank gave up its independence. It is now "only" a branch of the neighboring bank in a Federal statewhich consists of many small communities with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.


Particularly in the context of location intelligence issues, the geographical territorial units of the municipalities are a very heterogeneous grid. This is mainly due to territorial reforms that have not yet taken place everywhere.

Small, smaller, smallest

Until recently, the smallest bank in Germany was Raiffeisenbank Struvenhütten, founded in 1905. After 117 years of independence, the mini-bank (four employees, two of whom are board members, around 800 customers with total assets of just under 21 million euros) has no longer been an independent credit institution since the beginning of August, but only a branch of the neighboring and much larger Vereinigte VR Bank based on the island of Föhr, as reported by the Handelsblatt(paid article).

This merger was necessitated by growing regulatory and cost pressure as well as the need for digitalization, which represents an enormous effort for small banks in particular.


Struvenhütten itself is a small municipality in Schleswig-Holstein with 983 inhabitants (31.12.2021), located roughly between Hamburg and Neumünster. The Municipality itself advertises with rather soft factors: "The village surroundings are characterized by agricultural land and a small forest area, as well as the course of the Schmalfelder Au. The numerous cycle paths and farm tracks invite you to take long walks or bike rides."


It is certainly no coincidence that this small bank is located in Schleswig-Holstein. The Federal state in the far north consists primarily of many very small municipalities: More than 700 of the approximately 1,100 municipalities (i.e. around 63%) have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. The smallest Municipality - also in relation to Germany as a whole - is the Hallig Gröde south of the island of Föhr with 11 inhabitants, followed by Wiedenborstel with 12 inhabitants (both as at 31.12.2020). This may have changed again in the meantime. However, most of the smallest municipalities are located in a different Federal state.

Municipalities: Heterogeneous geographical level of analysis

There are currently just under 11,000 municipalities in Germany. If they were all the same size, each would have around 7,500 inhabitants (total nationwide population approx. 83 million), i.e. a collection of small towns at best. In addition to the 4 million cities, there are more than 4,000 municipalities with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, and these are very unevenly distributed.


Rhineland-Palatinate is the absolute and relative leader: more than 1,600 municipalities (out of a total of 2,300) are assigned to this category. Schleswig-Holstein comes in second place. In contrast, the most populous Federal state North Rhine-Westphalia only has just under 400 municipalities, the smallest of which is the town of Dahlen with 4,300 inhabitants. Why are there such huge differences?


In many western federal states, territorial reforms were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s in particular (at Municipality and district level) with the aim of creating more efficient and larger municipalities. The mergers often took place under strong resistance from the local population.


During this period, the number of municipalities in the old Federal Republic fell by 65% from an astronomical 25,000 to around 8,500 municipalities; the number of districts was also reduced from 425 to 235. Take Baden-Württemberg, for example: during the territorial reform between 1968 and 1975, 3,379 municipalities became 1,111 municipalities through mergers and incorporations. Even today, after around 50 years, little has changed in terms of numbers (although the content has).


The municipal level consists of very different territorial units in terms of market potential. This must be taken into account when considering location intelligence issues.

Top stores between woods and meadows

Back to the north: Our map (PDF) shows where the smallest municipalities in Schleswig-Holstein are located. In total, they cover 46% of the state's area, including a lot of forest and meadows, of course. Incidentally, the boundaries of the municipalities have deliberately not been clearly highlighted, as otherwise the map would look rather cluttered.

The section map below for the area of Struvenhütten also shows the top Nexiga stores. The points of interest from the banks and insurance companies segment are shown separately. Raiffeisenbank Struvenhütte and the ATM are also available as information.

The 520,000 top stores - the addresses of almost 1,300 chain stores and other footfall generators such as medical centers and insurance agencies - are a valuable database for many questions. For example, reliable sales hotspots can be determined or meaningful location and competition analyses can be carried out (Locations Sparkassen Blog).

The question remains as to which is currently the smallest bank in the country? One candidate is probably Raiffeisenbank Gammesfeld, from another very small town north of Crailsheim (Hohenlohe). The fact that there is only one branch with one employee is probably a record. But the balance sheet total for 2020 was impressive: almost 37 million euros. This bank can also be found in the Nexiga top stores.

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