Bank Branches, Threatened But Surviving

Thought to be endangered by the twin threats of mobile banking and the COVID-19 pandemic, bank branches it turns out, still have plenty of life left.

The Financial Brand reports that an FDIC report released at the end of September showed a net decline of 1,463 bank branches between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. That’s about 12% higher than last year, but not the tsunami some analysts were predicting. Banks closed 2,642 branches while opening 1,179.

Banks and branches trend graphic - blog.jpg

Zeroing in on just the pandemic months from March through August this year, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency received notice of 893 branch closings. For the same period in 2019, 967 notifications were submitted.

However, the trend is clearly headed down, if slowly. Over the last 10 years, the banking sector averaged 1,861 closures and 982 new branch openings annually. In 2011 there were about 90,000 bank branches. As of the end of June 2020, there were just over 80,000.

Because of regulatory requirements, “It’s hard to close a branch,” Richard Walker of Deloitte Consulting told Forbes. But that’s not the only reason, he added, “Banks still view branches as a critical part of their footprint.”

So do consumers, including those who have embraced mobile banking for the first time during the COVID lockdown. Research by the Simon-Kucher & Partners consulting firm reported in the ABA’s BankingJournal found 54% of customers would open an account only at a branch. A majority would visit a branch to open a business account and 69% said they’d go to a branch for a mortgage, despite the availability of online mortgage lenders.

Closed bank branch - blog.jpg

That survey also found customers willing to walk or drive longer distances to do business in a bank branch.

Still, 42% of customers say even after business returns to normal they expect they won’t be visiting branches as much.

Mindful of the trend toward online banking and the need to compete with the fintechs, bank executives are looking to transform branches as places that are mostly transactional to focus more on meeting customer financial needs. “I think there’s a goal for branches turning into more advice centers than transaction centers as they were in the past,” Bruce Van Saun, chair and CEO of Citizens Financial Group told Forbes.

That might just be a winning formula. In another, recent Simon-Kucher & Partners survey, consumers said a bank’s reputation, insured accounts and the bonus offered for opening an account are their top three reasons for choosing a bank. But next are “features that make saving engaging and fun” and how the bank values their loyalty.

Photo by Floriane Vita on Unsplash

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