In a move that has left many Americans grappling with reduced access to basic financial services, prominent US banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, US Bank, and Chase, have continued their branch closure spree across the country.
Week of Closures Hits Communities
From October 1 to October 7, these banking giants closed a total of 54 branches. Bank of America led the charge, shutting down 21 branches, followed by Wells Fargo with 15 closures. These operations were spread across several states, with a significant concentration in Louisville, Kentucky, and eight of Bank of America's closures in California.
Consumer Concerns Over Accessibility
A survey conducted by DailyMail.com revealed the growing apprehension among consumers, with 51% expressing concern over the dwindling number of physical bank branches. The report also spotlighted a worrying trend of decreased accessibility to brick-and-mortar services for black Americans compared to their white counterparts.
Political Response and Regulatory Limitations
In response to the ongoing closures, Senator Sherrod Brown penned a letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in March, urging an inquiry into the impact on lower-income communities. While the OCC necessitates banks to notify them of an impending closure, it lacks the authority to object to the move.
Banking in the Digital Era
The closures come amidst a banking industry increasingly leaning towards digital services, a shift that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fear of virus transmission has catalyzed a decrease in cash transactions and a 12.4% surge in digital payments in the first quarter of 2020, as revealed by a Federal Reserve study. This development has led to a 'zip code lottery' for Americans seeking access to physical bank branches. States like New Jersey, D.C., Connecticut, North Dakota, and Virginia have seen the greatest number of closures. Comparatively, Vermont reported no branch closures, while Nebraska, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Idaho recorded less than one closure per one million residents.
This trend underscores the ongoing shift to digital banking and the potential repercussions on communities that rely heavily on physical branches for their financial needs.