In Just Over a Decade, Every Bank Branch in America Could Disappear

Believe it or not, some large American banks have added branches in the past several years. This comes despite a rise in online banking. Some customers refuse to bank on the internet. One reason is the fear of hacking. High-priced transactions like mortgages often need to be done in person. However, bank branches are expensive, in terms of personnel, utilities and, in some instances, rent. New research forecasts that banks will force their customers out of branches and the physical branches will disappear within a few years.

Venture capital fintech start-up Self Financial has released results of its Death of Banks study. The conclusions are based on a combination of proprietary research and Census data. While the conclusion of the study may end up being true, the reasoning is questionable. The number of bank branches in the United States skyrocketed from 2000 to 2012, when the figure hit 83,060. The number fell to 77,647 in 2018. While it is clear the trend is downward, there is no evidence to prove conclusively the trendline won’t change or the fall-off decelerate.

If, however, the trend does continue, the last bank branch in the United States will close in 2034.

Some of the balance of the foundation for the Self Financial conclusions comes from their own survey work. However, once again the research does not prove a firm trend. Forty-six percent of Americans think “the way we bank needs to change.” That is not necessarily branch related.  Ironically, the research also shows that many people do not trust “online-only” banking.

Leaving the strength of the research aside, banks have a financial incentive to cut branches as quickly as they can without triggering customer defection. The largest incentive is that hundreds of thousands of people work at America’s bank branches. That, by itself, is immensely expensive. The costs for JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup alone are tremendous.

If the research is even partially correct, it means another step toward people-less customer service across a wide range of industries. Shoppers already can see scanners without attendants at retailers from Home Depot to CVS. McDonald’s locations increasingly allow people to order at kiosks. That will continue to cut the number of cashiers.

Will bank branches be gone in 14 years, completely in favor of online banking? Probably not, but the number of physical locations operated by banks almost certainly will plunge.

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