Announcements of branch closings continue to grab headlines. Surveys continue to predict massive changes in retail delivery. Yet the overall number of branches continues to creep up.

As of September 1995, there were 53,737 commercial bank branches in the United States, up from 52,699 a year earlier, according to the latest available figures from Thomson Bank Directory.

But soon, perhaps even later this year, that number could begin to dip as branch closings in the wake of the flurry of in-market acquisitions announced last year begin to offset start-ups.

Bankers certainly wouldn't be surprised. Some 70% of respondents to a recent survey by First Manhattan Consulting Group said reducing the size of their branch network was critical. Half anticipate closing more than 25% of their offices within the next three to four years.

Another study taking a longer view had an even more bold projection. A Coopers and Lybrand Consulting report said retail banks must reduce their staffs by as much as 50% over the next 10 years to remain competitive. But the short-term steps in reaching this future, where electronic delivery will prevail, isn't without challenges, as our story on CoreStates Financial Corp. in this issue shows (see page 10A).

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