What Happens When Bank of America Leaves Town

Published September 17, 2017
Dow Jones Newswires

Gavin Schill said he might not have been able to start his dental practice in Elkhart, Ind., about six years ago if there hadn't been a Bank of America branch in town to give him a loan.

But now that the bank has left the area, Mr. Schill said he's not that sad about it.

Bank of America pulled its branches out of Elkhart and other towns in Northern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan in 2013. So far, there doesn't appear to be much economic damage from the move. That is in part because the bank sold the branches to a smaller lender.

In more than three-quarters of the 253 counties that Bank of America has left since 2009, at least some branches were sold, limiting harm to local communities, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of bank regulatory records. In the remaining counties, however, Bank of America closed its branches.

In 2015, for instance, the bank shut down its lone remaining branch in Dodge City, Kan. The bank told regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that it was closing the branch because it wasn't meeting "business volume and profitability targets," according to documents obtained through a public-records request.

The bank sent customers a letter saying the branch was closing because "fewer customers have been visiting us here and instead are using online and mobile banking," according to the documents. It suggested customers could visit a branch in Wichita, Kan., more than 150 miles away, or in Amarillo, Texas, a roughly 240-mile drive.

Bank of America's sole remaining branch in Elkhart, population 52,000, came through its 2007 acquisition of Chicago-based LaSalle Bank. The branch, located next to a Salvation Army community center in a poor area, had a row of teller windows and few specialists. It still had décor from years earlier when it was owned by a LaSalle predecessor, said Ryan Bender, who worked at the location.

Bank of America sold its Elkhart branch to Indiana-based Old National Bancorp as part of a broader branch-and-deposit sale in the area.

When Bank of America left Elkhart, Mr. Schill said he was annoyed that he had to switch banks. But he eventually refinanced his loan with Old National Bank and said he prefers the personal attention they offer, including mixers for dentists at local restaurants.

"Elkhart wasn't worth their time," Mr. Schill said of Bank of America. "I'm much happier now."

Write to Rachel Louise Ensign at rachel.ensign@wsj.com and Coulter Jones at Coulter.Jones@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 17, 2017 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)