Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America plans to close a number of its branches this year, Bloomberg reported yesterday. But along with that news, BofA stated it would begin a videoconferencing trial program at some of its branches that would connect distant customers with its Merrill Lynch investment bankers.
Branch closures are no new thing for BofA, which saw a reduction in branches in 2010. As Bloomberg reports:
Bank of America, socked by new U.S. regulation that reduces overdraft and debit-card fees, plans to trim consumer banking expenses and increase sales through its Merrill Lynch brokerage, acquired in 2009. The company had 5,856 branches at the end of 2010, a 2.6 percent drop from the year earlier, and will “continue to downsize” its retail footprint, Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan told analysts last month.
While it's perhaps the first time the new overdraft and debit card regulations are mentioned as a direct cause for bank branch closures, the announcement does represent a significant shift for the nation's largest bank by asset size toward reducing its physical footprint and using video technology to increase access to its investment products.
BofA isn't necessarily reinventing the wheel, however.
In January, the Star-Telegram reported San Antonio-based USAA is hiring 200 financial advisers and opening a new center that will focus on connecting those advisers with customers via video and teleconferencing. Portland, Ore.-based Umpqua Bank has been building videoconferencing into its "stores" for more than a year for the distinct purpose of putting customers in remote locations in contact with bankers in others. Citi's new flagship branch in New York has similarly technologically-advanced features.
That Bank of America is closing a yet-to-be determined number of its branches is not the news, and there might be similar stories coming from other banks in the coming years. But its adoption of videoconferencing continues to validate retail banking's movement toward collaboration technology as a means to connect remote customers to bankers, concentrate limited resources and potentially sell investment products to those who might not otherwise be looking to purchase them.