If my phone calls and emails are any indication, some Bank of America customers are not pleased with the Charlotte lender’s moves to discontinue traditional drive-up teller service at some of its branches.
Last week, I wrote about the Beatties Ford Road location, where the bank in July ended the setup that allowed drive-up customers to speak with a teller inside the branch. Readers reacting to that story shared complaints about losing the service at other branches in the Charlotte area.
Here’s a sampling of what I heard:
▪ Yvonne Amato is among customers who told me they are frustrated Bank of America pulled traditional drive-up teller service from a Ballantyne branch earlier this year. The location is directly across U.S. 521 from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
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The bank says it replaced that service with a high-tech automated teller machine that sits outside the branch. Such ATMs, which Bank of America introduced in 2013, feature a video screen that enables customers to speak with a teller in a call center.
Amato, who declined to give her age, said she prefers the old setup to a video ATM. She said she’s since quit using the Ballantyne branch and, instead, drives longer distances to get to other Bank of America branches that still have conventional drive-up teller service.
“I’m really annoyed that they’ve closed that drive-thru,” she said.
▪ James Hill said he has used the Ballantyne branch for about five years but has begun doing more business at a nearby Wells Fargo branch since traditional drive-up teller service ended at Bank of America’s Ballantyne location.
Hill, who didn’t give his age, described loss of the service as an inconvenience.
“I talked with the manager several times, three or four or five times ... and they always have some kind of a reason that they’re doing this which makes no customer-service sense,” he said.
▪ David Sheehan, 51, says he’s started doing more of his banking online since Bank of America stopped offering drive-up teller service at its 2405 Freedom Drive branch. The bank says the service ended there in 2013.
A drive-up ATM with video capabilities has not been been installed outside that location.
Sheehan, a longtime customer going back to Bank of America predecessor North Carolina National Bank, said he had used drive-up teller service at Freedom Drive “constantly, weekly.”
That service was faster than having to go inside the branch, he said.
“On a busy day you’ll be in there 30 minutes, easy,” he said. “I really try to avoid having to go to the bank now.”
▪ Gloria Coltharp said she’s probably going to stop using the Freedom Drive branch over the loss of drive-up teller service there.
“It’s convenient to do it that way,” the 73-year-old said. “That’s just my preference. If you have to go in, generally you have a wait. It’s time-consuming.”
Citing other changes Bank of America has made – such as getting rid of some branches, a move other lenders have taken – Coltharp said it seems to her the bank is steering customers away from branches and toward mobile banking and other self-service modes. Upset by such changes, Coltharp said she and her husband have considered moving their five accounts from Bank of America.
“As inconvenient as it would be to change banks ... we’re still talking about it,” she said.
The bank considers its video ATMs an expansion of service, because they allow access to tellers during and outside of normal banking hours. Also, compared with a standard ATM, the video machines allow customers to complete more types of transactions, the bank points out.
The bank also says it educates its customers on how to use the machines. The lender says it is working with McCrorey YMCA and others to provide educational sessions on the new ATMs for the Beatties Ford Road customers.
I asked the four customers their thoughts on those new ATMs. Here’s what they said:
▪ Amato: “I just don’t have patience to use those kinds of things. I will not play with machines.”
▪ Hill: “It’s much quicker with a live teller ... than using the outside video-teller machine. You have to go through so many more steps.”
▪ Sheehan: “I have never used one. I guess I would be open to trying it and see.”
▪ Coltharp: “I haven’t used them. It wouldn’t be my favorite way. It seems more complicated to me ... if I have several (transactions) to do.”
Last week, the bank told the Observer only two Charlotte-area branches lost the traditional drive-up teller service this year: the Beatties Ford branch and one in Monroe. The bank later said it accidentally omitted the Ballantyne branch.
Bank of America says it modifies branches based on habits and preferences of customers at specific locations. It has also emphasized that traditional drive-up teller service has been eliminated at branches where usage is low.
Those cuts come at a time when banks everywhere feel pressure to lower expenses amid rising regulatory costs and low interest rates. One area of focus for cost-cutting has been branches, which are expensive to operate.
It’s a sign of the times.
As more customers move to mobile banking and away from conducting transactions at a teller counter, banks will continue making changes to their branches.
And customers will continue to let banks know how they feel about that.