- US banks have closed branches at a rate of more than 1,600 per year since 2013.
- But branch executives told Insider they still value physical locations for advice-oriented services.
- The past year has seen continued branch redesigns and employee upskilling.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Calls of the demise of bank branches might be premature.
While the COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s banking habits, shifting them to digital methods, bank branches still hold an important role.
In conversations with nine executives at banks like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Truist, a singular theme emerged: Banks will need fewer physical locations in the future, but prime metropolitan areas remain highly sought after for the high-value client relationships they foster.
Overall branch count across all US banks has been trending lower for years even before the pandemic, dropping by more than 1,600 per year on average between 2013 and 2019, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Some executives indicated such net closures will continue, even as banks vie for market share in increasingly crowded, more desirable locations. In 2020, net branch closings were the highest on record, at 2,284.
Yet the common thread between the banks featured on the list is that their branches remain an important part of the linkage between institution and customer.
Together, these nine leaders (and the executives of one bank that declined to be interviewed) oversee more than 24,000 branches across the country.
Services in these branches has already become less tailored around transactional, deposit-based banking. Instead, they’re more focused on discussing a mortgage loan, business banking questions, or a potential wealth portfolio than depositing a weekly paycheck (an estimated 89% of Americans use mobile banking tools, per Insider Intelligence).
The role bank branch employees plays has also evolved, blurring the lines between traditional teller responsibilities and advisory roles. More and more branch employees are being upskilled within branches, even as overall total branch employment declines.
The shift extends to the very design of branches themselves. The branches that remain have been designed, or will be created, to coexist and complement digital services. Bankers are now staffed with iPads instead of deposit slips, and teller lines have become booths or open waiting areas.
The footprint of branches has also been shaped by a flurry of bank M&A in the past year that has seen at least four deals worth more than $5 billion either announced or closed, per S&P Global. That includes PNC’s tie-up with BBVA and Huntington’s merger with TCF Financial — not to mention the 2019 mega-deal between BB&T and SunTrust.
Jane Fraser, the chief executive of Citi, a global bank that’s looking to grow its US consumer presence, said it simply at an industry conference in June: “I don’t believe branches are dead yet.”