Past research on policy subsystems has not attempted to explain the manner in which policy preferences for customary subsystem participants are formed as part of a system. The purpose of this research is to narrow the gap between the theoretical conceptualization and empirical articulation of policy subsystems. This study examines the formation of policy preferences for standard subsystem participants in the area of commercial bank regulation for the 1949–89 period. The findings reveal that the formation of (regulatory) policy preferences for these main subsystem participants reflects strategic behaviour rather than retrospective behaviour. This suggests that institutional participants within the commercial banking regulatory subsystem strategically operate in a policy environment with an abundance of information.