Cost consciousness appears to have an echo in the way banks are configuring their branch networks: the typical office holds more deposits than it used to.
Covering more territory with a smaller physical footprint is an intentional strategy at Wells Fargo (WFC). "We used to build 5,000 square-foot stores with a 10-penny sign. Now we are building 10-penny stores with a 5,000 square foot sign," Wells CEO John Stumpf told investors in January. (The following graphic shows median deposits per branch at the banks with the 15 biggest networks. Text continues below.)
The median branch size at Wells Fargo jumped 48 percent from 2007 to $54.1 million last year. Most banks, assisted by strong deposit growth, are moving in the same direction. The industrywide median increased 15 percent over the same timeframe to $35.2 million.
Of course, the drive to reduce overhead is just one factor behind the increase in deposits per branch. Sudden year-over-year swings often can be explained by the fusing of two networks brought together in a big merger. TCF Financial's (TCB) relatively small median branch size reflects the large number of locations it has inside supermarkets.
Median deposits probably provide a better perspective on branch strategy than averages, which can be skewed by tens of billions of dollars stored at headquarters branches. At a money center bank like Citigroup (NYSE:C), for instance, the average branch size exceeds the median by about $300 million, whereas the differential at regional banks like Susquehanna (SUSQ), Fulton (FULT) and Umpqua (UMPQ) is relatively small.
Most banks still consider branches to be essential assets.
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon recently vouched for their role in selling credit cards, mortgages and other products. "The commercial bank," he told investors in January, "couldn't survive without them."