|By Jonnelle Davis, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
You can deposit a check now simply by taking a photo of it with your smartphone, and remote tellers can help you conduct bank business without having to stand in a line.
As digital developments invade the banking world, consumers are finding they need to visit branches less frequently, and banks are responding by providing fewer branches.
"It is cutting down on the branch traffic, and therefore, banks across the industry need fewer branches, and we also need less square footage devoted to branches,"
So where does that leave those familiar brick-and-mortar branches?
They are disappearing all around us.
Locally, some have been turned into jewelry stores and coffee shops. Others in the
"It's common to see branch sales. It's common to see industry consolidation as financial institutions look for synergies and ways to improve their operations," Batts said. "Some banks have sold branches as they've focused more so on mobile banking or other types of avenues."
Embraced by boomers
Mobile banking is more convenient for the consumer in certain instances, and many consumers are going mobile — from millennials to baby boomers.
"The more mature market — who you would think would be, on one hand, more resistant to change and technology because they didn't grow up with it, might not be as familiar with it — has surprisingly embraced it," said
Gone are the days when branches were bustling on payday Friday. Why go inside a branch to deposit a payroll check when you can take advantage of direct deposit by your employer?
Got a check from a friend for your birthday or Christmas? You can post and clear that check digitally now by using your bank's mobile app on your smartphone.
Some banks in larger markets are even eliminating the need for tellers by using interactive machines that let customers connect by video to a teller in another location. And ATMs have become more sophisticated. Some banks have rolled out machines that give exact change.
A balance for banks
Banks save when customers turn to mobile banking. Braswell said such innovations take the pressure off banks to staff at a certain level because many transactions that traditionally have been handled person-to-person or by phone now can easily be done electronically.
Incorporating technology is generally less expensive in the long run than paying salaries, benefits, leases and other costs on physical structures.
"Ultimately, it's good because the client is able to access the bank with multiple channels, and it is cheaper for us to service a client with a mobile app than it is to build a building," Barksdale said.
But branches are a long way from becoming obsolete. Consumers have not stopped visiting branches. They just are doing so less frequently, Barksdale said.
"Customers are certainly going more to mobile banking," he said. "That said, that doesn't necessarily mean that they quit using the branch. It's not necessarily an either-or scenario."
You might not need to go inside the bank to cash your check, but you'll want to speak with a human if you're opening a new account or securing a car or home loan.
"If you're going to get an equity line on your home, you're probably going to visit a branch," Barksdale said.
Braswell said banks must strike the proper balance between the convenience of mobile banking and customer service. He said financial institutions should maintain a level of customer support because there still will be questions that arise that can't be answered electronically.
Cost vs. customer
And Braswell said he isn't convinced that the trend toward mobile banking is the real reason that some larger banks are closing branches.
"I really think what's happening is these larger banks are trying to force their operational needs into their client base and use the digital banking as the excuse and cover-up for their wanting to reduce staffing," Braswell said.
Yes, digital banking helps banks better manage their expenses, he said. But he said community banks such as his are trying to hold onto their foundations of customer service, knowing the customer and providing services at an affordable cost.
"The community banking world offers all of those same (digital) products, but we don't force our customer into that," Braswell said. "We provide it as an alternative."
Who knows what will become of
But the options are plentiful.
Barksdale said NewBridge uses its
Batts of the bankers association said community banks could use closed branches to increase their footprint in communities. He said some community banks are expanding across
"It actually creates market opportunities sometimes for smaller institutions that are looking to expand," he said, "to go into new markets and to do so at a reduced cost."
(c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)
Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services