B of A is latest big bank to announce aggressive branch expansion

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Bank of America plans to open more than 500 branches over the next four years as part of a large-scale investment in retail banking.

The $2.28 trillion-asset company said in a press release Monday that it will hire more than 5,400 employees as part of the expansion. The Charlotte, N.C., company did not specify where the new branches will be located, nor did it say how much the proposed brick-and-mortar expansion plan would cost.

Additionally, Bank of America said it plans to redesign more than 1,500 branches, adding new technology and layouts. The company's branch count fell by 2% last year, to 4,470. The company has spent recent years purging branches in smaller markets, often by selling them to community banks. It’s unclear how the planned expansion will affect its overall branch count.

B of A has recently taken a high-tech approach to expanding its retail network, particularly in midsize Midwestern markets that are dominated by regional banks. Last month, the company announced plans to enter Pittsburgh — a market dominated by the $364 billion-asset PNC Financial Services Group — by opening a large financial center and several satellite offices across the city that include features such as videoconferencing technology.

The company has taken similar approaches to entering Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver and, most recently, major Ohio markets such as Cincinnati and Cleveland. So far, it has opened 160 of its planned new branches and completed 620 of its proposed renovations.

“Our high-tech and high-touch approach means our team is able to help clients meet their financial needs throughout their lifetimes and deliver extraordinary client care at all times, no matter how they choose to do their banking,” Dean Athanasia, the company's co-head of consumer and small-business banking, said in the release.

The announcement marks a shift in the way megabanks have viewed branches. After pruning their networks for years, some are now relying on physical storefronts to expand into new markets.

JPMorgan Chase said in January that it would open more than 400 branches in new markets such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The New York company said it would hire as many as 3,000 new employees as part of the plan.

In addition to its branch expansion, B of A outlined plans to make several new digital tools available for consumers.

The company will publicly release its highly anticipated virtual financial assistant, known as erica, in March, the release said. The voice and text bot will be available in B of A’s mobile app, and will assist customers in accessing balance information and transferring money, among other tasks.

In April, mobile customers will also be able to complete a mortgage application within the B of A's app. The feature will allow customers to track the status of their mortgage applications, upload documents and review disclosures.

“We continue to deploy significant resources to meet the changing needs of an expanding client base,” Thong Nguyen, co-head of consumer and small-business banking, said in the release.

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