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As Wells Fargo Closes 400 Branches, Other Banks May Follow

Douglas A. McIntyre

Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) continues to be plagued by a scandal caused by employees who opened fake customer accounts, estimated to be as many as 2 million. The trouble caused 5,300 people to lose their jobs. The big bank continues to struggle, both financially and with its reputation. As part of means to cut costs, Wells Fargo's chief financial officer said it would shutter 400 branches. It is a continuation of a move by large retail banks to close locations and replace them with automated systems and online bank products.

CFO John Shrewsberry said that once the branches were closed at the end of next year, Wells Fargo would have 6,065. Among all U.S. banks, it has the most branch locations, according to BankLocations.com, which puts its total at 6,215 at the end of September.

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The same data show that 22 American banks have over 500 branches. Just behind Wells Fargo in number, JPMorgan Chase has 5,418, Bank of America has 4,707, U.S. Bank has 3,221 and PNC has 2,684. Among them the process of shuttering branches already has begun.

Bank of American Corp. (BAC) recently acknowledged that more branch closings were inevitable. Among the things cited were that customers found, in many cases, it is easier not to stand in lines for things like deposits or withdrawals. Loan applications can be made online. Even check deposits can be made with an app and smartphone camera.

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Consulting firm PcW recently issued its "The Future of the Bank Branch" report, which in part said:

In heavily banked markets such as the US, we expect at least 20% fewer branches by 2020, and that this trend will continue to accelerate. Emerging markets will continue to develop their physical footprints, using a growing range of points of presence.

If that is close to accurate, applied to the nation's five largest banks based on branch count, then that number would be close to 4,500.

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