Proximity to a branch was once a key consideration when people went looking for a new bank, but geography is now becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Today, banks use the Internet to market their products to anyone; high-yield savings accounts are especially popular, and few people who sign up for these products online know, or even care, where the banks offering them are based. Remote capture, one of the most popular check-imaging applications, not only speeds up the availability of funds, it's given customers one less reason to make a trip to the bank.
The next steps on the road to anytime, anywhere banking will come from the mobile phone.
The current generation of mobile services emulates online banking sites by helping people keep track of their accounts, view transactions and pay bills, whether they are at home, in a car or on vacation. What's coming promises to make visiting the branch seem so 20th Century.
Several banks are adding remote capture technology to mobile phones that will let customers snap pictures of checks with a phone's built-in camera and zap the images to the bank. So the plumber who can already use his smart phone to accept a credit card payment will soon be using his mobile device to deposit that check for the emergency pipe repair, too.
And when you need to pay someone in cash, well, there's an app for that, too. Person-to-person transfer services will soon let people send each other money, drawn directly from, and routed straight into, deposit accounts. Soon, sending money by phone could be as easy as dialing a number stored in your contacts file. Need to pay the babysitter, or give your friend $20 to cover your share of the check? Just use the phone.
Branches won't disappear, since there will always be customers who prefer to do their banking face-to-face. And many customers who do most of their banking electronically or through the ATM still like to know they have the option of visiting a branch if they need a loan or investment advice.
But as new technologies take hold, large swaths of customers might go weeks, months even years without setting foot in their neighborhood branch. Unless it's for the free pens and lollipops.