Is In-Person Banking Going The Way Of The Dodo?

When I was a child, I remember going to the bank every Friday with my mom. She’d run inside to deposit her paycheck, or pull up to the drive-thru window where the teller would sometimes put a candy in the cash envelope if he or she saw me or my siblings sitting in the car. It’s all very quaint and rose-colored now, but that notion of going to the bank on a regular basis appears to be a thing of the past.

A new survey from found that 30% of all bank or credit union customers hadn’t been to their local branch in at least six months. That’s about the same percentage of people who had visited the bank within the previous week.

So with those two ends of the spectrum accounting for a total of 60% of consumers, it’s that 40% of people who sometimes go to the bank who will determine whether it’s important to have a local bank branch or not.

If you believe the children (or in this case, those were recently children) are our future, then the future of in-person banking is bleak. According to the BankRate numbers, fewer than 1-in-5 people under the age of 30 visited a bank branch on a weekly basis, while nearly one-third of customers over the age of 30 are popping by the local branch on a regular basis.

But is this a matter of the younger generation choosing to bank online or via ATM, or is it because these youngsters haven’t started earning enough money to merit regular visits to the bank? The BankRate survey found a sizable difference in bank visits based on customers’ incomes.

29% of those earning below $30,000 a year said they hadn’t been to a bank in at least a year, nearly double the percentage of respondents earning at least $75,000 a year.

But even as that group begins to earn more money, it seems likely that in-person banking will continue to decline in popularity. More employees receive their pay via direct-deposit, and many workers are only paid twice-monthly (or sometimes only once a month), so even if they do get paper checks, the visit to the bank is less frequent. Additionally, a number of banks now offer customers the ability to deposit checks via smartphone apps.

Given the BankRate data, banks would seem more likely to keep branches open in affluent areas, where customers not only have more on deposit but are more likely to request that person-to-person contact. Meanwhile, financial institutions may choose to close branches where customers are not taking advantage of these services and where customers are less likely to meet with bank staffers about things like high-value auto and home loans, or shifting funds between accounts.

While some may shrug off the decline in popularity of in-person banking as an inevitability, it may have the unfortunate side-effect of harming the communities where local bank branches are needed the most.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.