Bank Of America To Shut 600 Branches Due To Surge In Online And Mobile Banking - InformationWeek

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Commentary
7/28/2009
09:10 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Bank Of America To Shut 600 Branches Due To Surge In Online And Mobile Banking

After two decades of aggressive expansion in the bricks-and-mortar side of its retail-banking business, Bank of America is reportedly set to close about 10% of its 6,100 nationwide branches as more and more consumers handle their banking needs online and with mobile devices rather than visiting their local branch. My only question is, why have they waited so long?

After two decades of aggressive expansion in the bricks-and-mortar side of its retail-banking business, Bank of America is reportedly set to close about 10% of its 6,100 nationwide branches as more and more consumers handle their banking needs online and with mobile devices rather than visiting their local branch. My only question is, why have they waited so long?Given what's going on in so many other industries, the news about Bank of America almost seems like a yawner. In Manhattan's Union Square this past weekend, it was a bit of a jolt to stand in front of what had been the last remaining Virgin Records Megastore and not see floods of people pouring in and out, regardless of the time of day. The trendy neighborhood was jammed with young people, so the store's closing was clearly not due to bad neighborhood demographics or an isolated location.

No, it's much simpler than that: despite the "trendy and hip" nature of the store environment, the fundamental business model no longer fits the behavior pattern and preferences of a sufficient number of music-loving and music-purchasing consumers.

In the same way, more and more people are banking online and, particularly among younger adults, managing all of their financial affairs via mobile devices. Whether those young adults view what their doing as "banking" remains to be seen, but it's clear that strolling up to a teller for a check deposit that comes with the message that the bank will use your money for five days before giving it to you is an experience that growing numbers of consumers don't care to have.

Newspapers, the old-fashioned department stores, travel agencies - they're all either gone or are shells of what they used to be as the online world has rendered many of them increasingly irrelevant. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to see more and more large retail-banking companies announce similar cutbacks in their bricks-and-mortar businesses.

But in today's climate of increasing government regulation, and not so long after the U.S. financial system flirted with disaster, banks are perhaps understandably being extremely cautious about any changes in how they conduct their business. The news about the BofA branch closings, for example, did not come in an official statement from the company - rather, the Wall Street Journal reported that in a private meeting last week with some investors, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis mentioned the proposed branch cutbacks.

So while the industrywide cutback in physical locations might take a little longer than seems prudent, there's no question that online and mobile technology are inexorably doing to the retail-banking business what they've done earlier to so many other types of businesses: put more information and choice in the hands of consumers and pushed inefficient business models and distribution methods to the curb.

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