Friday, October 4, 2013

SunTrust cuts most branches in North Carolina

SunTrust Banks cut more branches in North Carolina than any other lender over the past year, according to data provided to the Observer by SNL Financial.

The Atlanta-based lender, which is building a regional headquarters in SouthPark, closed 28 branches across the state as of June 30. The bank, which has had a presence in North Carolina since 2004, has been looking this year to shed branches.

In March, the bank's CEO, William Rogers, told analysts it planned to close roughly 40 U.S. branches in the first quarter of this year. Additional closures were planned for 2013, he said. Many of the branches the bank is closing are inside stores, such as Kroger and Publix.

The SunTrust closures have helped North Carolina lose the largest percentage of branches in the past year than any other state. The number of branches in the state dropped from 2,720 to 2,634, or 3 percent. Only 15 of the closures were in the Charlotte region.

Over the past year, Bank of America closed 10 branches in North Carolina, while Wells Fargo closed two. But both banks, as well as others, have also been opening branches in the state during the same period.

Harry Davis, economist for the Raleigh-based N.C. Bankers Association, a trade group, said North Carolina can stand to lose branches.

"We have a very large number of branches per person," he said. "It's a very highly branched state."

Historically, while other states had laws that limited the growth of branches, North Carolina gave banks more freedom to open locations where they wanted, he said.

"That's why we ended up with some fairly large banks and a lot of branches. There's too much brick and mortar," he said.

Nationwide, banks are closing branches in a cost-saving move as more of their customers migrate to online and mobile banking. Across the U.S., the number of branches decreased 1 percent in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are experimenting with smaller layouts staffed with fewer tellers.