Are You Ready for the End of Face-to-Face Banking?

If recent technological advances are any indication of what’s in store for the future, then chatting in-person with a teller at your local bank or credit union may soon become a thing of the past. Institutions as big as Bank of America and as small as Twin Star Credit Union of Western Washington appear to be making moves toward more automated, impersonal services. Branches across the country are closing as well. But while this may sound bad on the surface, is it really? Or is this just the next step in the evolution of the way we do business? Why do we need “in-your-face” banking anyway?

This is an exciting year for the folks at Bank of America as they expand their operation to include a variety of next-gen banking services. The recent unveiling of their Teller Assist machine is a good example. This new ATM features live video conferencing with remote tellers who are available every day of the week (7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends). The machines will eventually allow people to make withdrawals in precise amounts, to split deposits between separate accounts and to make payments on loans and credit card balances.

But the big industry names aren’t the only ones who are looking to the future of banking. Smaller institutions, like Washington State’s Twin Star Credit Union, are also beefing up their online and mobile services. The non-profit company recently introduced remote check deposits and peer-to-peer PayPal money transfers – and you can do it all through your smartphone.

These new technologies aren’t the only hint that big changes are coming. In some areas, bank closures are increasing by leaps and bounds. According to a recent American Banker article, “Banks including Citigroup, PNC, and SunTrust Banks are accelerating their branch closures,” and the numbers show that it’s true. Last year, SunTrust axed 43 branches. This year, PNC will close 200 branch locations, and Citigroup recently announced their plans to shut down 84 branches, 40 of them in international locations.

Even though the reasons behind the mass closures are related more closely to the banks’ financial troubles than to customer convenience, the outcome will be the same: fewer branches and an increase in remote, personal-banking. But here’s the thing. Unless they’ve got a really good reason for reversing course when their financial situations improve, banks won’t bother to build new branches. The widespread acceptance of online banking pretty much guarantees that this is the path we’re headed down.

People don’t want to deal with banks if they don’t have to. Most of us no longer have to. Banks don’t need buildings if they can do just as well without them. They seem to be doing just fine. As Chase CEO of Consumer Banking Ryan McInerney has pointed out, 90% of personal banking can currently be accomplished with ATMs and home electronics, and right now, banks and credit unions everywhere are seeking ways to enhance their mobile services, to eliminate paper transactions and to take care of that remaining 10%. Once they do, then what? The answer is clear: one day in the not-too-distant future, your nearest laptop will be the only thing you need to perform any financial task you can imagine.

What do you think? Has online banking has improved our lives, or do you lament the loss of a more personal style of banking? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

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