Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan this week seemed to be trying to move beyond the insufferable question of "whither the branch" in today's technological world.
Yes, B of A has cut 11% of its branches, to 5,400, through sales and closures, and it's looking to shrink the total further to 5,000, he said Tuesday at a financial services in New York hosted by his Merrill Lynch unit. Meanwhile, it has made huge investments in technology such as $750 million in mobile and other online technology in the last four to five years, he said.
But the word branch doesn't mean the same thing it used to, either. What's inside the remaining branches is changing, he emphasized.
"Where you're seeing our shift is, as our branch numbers come down, the branches are getting bigger and... the core format is a bigger branch with more capabilities" such as mortgage loan officers, brokers, financial advisors and other specialists, he said.
Some of these mega-branches are consolidations of, say, four smaller branches, he noted. Meanwhile, the company has more "express" branches, like its bare-bones locations in lower Manhattan with an automated teller machine and an electronic connection to offsite tellers.
"Because more people are transferring our activities to electronics, you will see the numbers of branches come down in the context we think of the branch now as sort of a full-service thing," Moynihan says. Yet "you may have more outlets because the express may come up."
Conceptually, a branch isn't a place anymore. "Everybody is carrying a branch in their pocket right now with a smartphone," he says.
Such is the reality of a bank that has 8 million visitors to its branches each week yet now sees 7% of checks deposited over mobile devices.
All of these formats are "critically important to us," Moynihan said.