Bank Watch

Bank of America testing ‘completely automated’ branches

Bank of America said Tuesday it is testing ‘completely automated’ branches, the Charlotte-based company’s latest push into self-service. Pictured: the Bank of America Branch at Tryon and Trade streets on uptown Charlotte.
Bank of America said Tuesday it is testing ‘completely automated’ branches, the Charlotte-based company’s latest push into self-service. Pictured: the Bank of America Branch at Tryon and Trade streets on uptown Charlotte. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Bank of America is testing “completely automated” branches, its latest push into self-service as CEO Brian Moynihan seeks to further lower costs at the Charlotte-based company, an executive said Tuesday.

Dean Athanasia, co-head of consumer banking, disclosed the new branches at a financial services forum in Florida, during a discussion on Bank of America’s efforts to cut expenses and improve efficiencies.

The bank is testing three such branches in Denver, Colo., and Minneapolis, spokeswoman Anne Pace told the Observer. Smaller than a traditional branch, they feature automated teller machines and video-conferencing technology so customers can talk to off-site bankers, Pace said. The branches are also staffed with an on-site banker in case customers need assistance, she said.

Bank of America is assessing how much time the branches, roughly a quarter the size of a typical branch, need to be staffed with an on-site banker or if a banker is needed at all, she said. “These centers offer our clients expanded access to our capabilities and expertise,” Pace said.

As a security measure, video-conferencing rooms will only be accessed with an ATM card or debit card from Bank of America or other banks, she added.

The move comes as Moynihan, CEO since 2010, continues to look for ways to wring costs from the nation’s second-largest bank, which grew unwieldy in the run-up to the financial crisis through years of acquisitions. Over Moynihan’s tenure, the bank has eliminated billions in expenses through divestitures, job cuts and other steps. The bank is taking out more costs in part through automating roles and processes.

“We are literally automating every single thing,” Athanasia said Tuesday.

“Paper handling in the middle office, we want to take out,” he said. “We want to streamline the transactions from front to back office – make it completely seamless – and that goes to auto loans, mortgage, credit cards, deposits.”

Bank of America’s overall number of branches has fallen under Moynihan, even as the bank has opened branches in existing and new markets. Athanasia said he expects the bank will open 50 to 60 new branches over the next year.

Athanasia said that while Bank of America is lowering costs, it is also investing in other areas, such as mobile-banking and other technology to meet customer demands.

Last year, for example, the bank unveiled plans for a Siri-like “virtual assistant” for smartphones. The service is expected to be available in the fourth quarter of this year, Athanasia said Tuesday.

Bank of America has taken other steps in recent years toward self-service in branches, such as eliminating teller lines at some locations and installing ATMs that instead allow customers to talk via video to bankers in call centers.

Some changes in its branches have frustrated customers, such as ending drive-up teller service in Charlotte and elsewhere. Athanasia noted Tuesday that 80 percent of the bank’s clients are rating it a 9 or 10, higher than from a year ago.

“So we continue to build that,” he said.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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