Reports of branch channels’ demise greatly exaggerated

A few months ago, Bank of America reported that it would consolidate reducing the size of its branch network, with speculation that it would eventually close up to 10% of branches (Bank of America has grown its branch network aggressively over the past decade (organically and through acquisition) and even with a 10% decline, the bank would have approx. 5,500 branches).

Some industry commentators saw this announcement as indicative of the long-term demise of the branch channel.   With self-service channels accounting for a majority of service transactions, branch density does not have to be as high, so some branch consolidation is inevitable.

However, the bigger change is the repositioning of branches as platforms for more complex transactions that require one-to-one transactions with specialists.  The staff mix in branches will change, with fewer tellers needed to handle everyday transactions, and greater deployment of sales specialists (Chase recently reported that it grew its sales specialists from 5,454 in 1Q09 to 6,319 in 1Q10).