I am not a drama queen, an extremist or a conspiracy theorist. I do not assume the worst, nor do I blindly hope for the best in all things. So when I read articles saying branching is dead and banks should start shuttering them now, I tend to be skeptical. Similarly, when I hear bankers say their customers do not want to use new technology and therefore they are not going to implement it, I am again a little skeptical. I do not think these bankers are misinformed, I just think their customers are a little slower to adopt new technology — but adopt new technology they will, eventually. Because the fact is technology is making customers’ lives easier by reducing their dependence on entering a branch for everyday transactions.
As this technological phenomenon has taken hold, numerous articles have been written predicting branches will be completely eliminated. And there are numbers to back them up: SNL Financial released research this summer that stated U.S. banks and thrifts closed 767 branches during the year ended June 30.
However, you can also find a plethora of articles supporting the view that branches will continue to increase and thrive. These articles assert that people want to talk to someone in person for major financial decisions. Ironically, SNL Financial released research in October supporting this theory as well. While net branch growth was not robust anywhere, SNL found prominent metro areas in the West and Southeast added to their total branch counts during the past year.
I have a hard time believing branches will disappear completely, but I also have a hard time believing this country needs more of them. So here is what I propose will happen: There will not be a bank branch on every block as there is today, but there will still be branches; you just might have to drive farther to get to one. There also will not be many tellers at these branches. Instead, the majority of employees will focus on building customer relationships and will have some newly coined title like “unified monetary services advocate.” (OK, that’s a little long, but you get the idea.) I will even go so far as to say that one day — maybe not in some of our lifetimes — branches will not even offer check cashing or take deposit slips at the actual branch – it will all be accomplished through remote deposit capture via smartphones or some other yet-to-be-created technology.
Those are just my thoughts. Feel free to share yours with me. And if you would like to learn more about the branch of the future — or if there will even be a branch of the future — click the links below.
Kari English is senior editor of BankNews.
Copyright (c) December 2012 by BankNews Media