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What makes you go into a bank branch?

There are no more Central Pennsylvania branches of Bank of America. That doesn’t mean it’s a useless endeavor to check in on how one of the biggest banks in the country is performing, and what its leaders are saying.

So I went through the teleconference held by BofA CEO Brian Moynihan during the bank’s first quarter earnings report. One of his remarks struck me as the definitive comment on the future of bank branch business:

“I think the branches are not going to be places where people come to transact,” he said. “They’re going to come for a product they need because something changed in their life.”

He made the comment while offering an update on the bank’s branch consolidations, and noting that the bank had 19.6 million active mobile users during the first quarter, up 15 percent from the first quarter of 2015. About 16 percent of all of Bank of America’s first quarter 2016 deposits came via a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, according to the bank’s first quarter earnings presentation.

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., which also reported first quarter earnings Thursday, said 47 percent of all its first quarter deposits came through ATMs and mobile devices. That was up from 40 percent in the first quarter of 2015.

It seems like people in the financial services industry have spent a lot of time — and money — trying to define exactly why people will be coming into a branch five, 10 or 50 years from now and what products they’ll be looking for.

Moynihan hit the nail as close to the head and as succinctly as he could possibly have. They’ll be going to branches when “something changed in their life.”

Quick story:

Last Sunday, I visited a bank branch for the first time in almost two years. My debit/credit card had been declined at a local store when it most certainly should not have. For some reason I couldn’t get in to the bank’s mobile application to find out what the heck just happened, and if I had somehow been hacked.

I tried the card at a nearby ATM — it, too, said essentially there was something screwy with the card. I was passing by one of my bank’s branches before my next errand, and was happy to see it still had Sunday drive-thru service. The teller couldn’t really help me, other than confirming my bank balance, and that nothing was missing.


I went into a branch the next morning — twice in two days! — and ordered a new card. There was obviously something funky with the card itself that had given me trouble for months. So my first time in a bank branch in nearly two years was to have what could have been a major debit card problem resolved.

Before that, it was to work with the bank on a mortgage.

Twice in two years. Once because I thought I had a legitimate concern I could have been a victim of identity theft, another because I was buying a house and, try as I might, I couldn’t get it done online.

Moynihan’s comments hit home. And it makes me think of the millennials, the tech-savvy next generation of bank customers who may not need a bank branch at all despite studies still saying they are users of bank branches.

Unless their life has changed and they NEED a bank branch, that is. Then they’ll be happy there is probably still one about 15 miles from their house.

Michael Sadowski

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