I was glad to see this Washington Post story confirming my suspicion that a large and growing quantity of retail establishments in our fair District are bank branches, and also to learn that I’m not the only one annoyed by this development since there’s really nothing less fun or interesting that could populate your retail corridor than a bank branch. And it seems that DC is not alone: “The branch boom has prompted District officials to mull ways to control the growth, a strategy at work in Chicago, where branches have increased by 50 percent since 2002, and New York, where Manhattan has experienced a 41 percent rise.”
Still, the underlying dynamics here escape me. According to the Post “industry studies showed that customers wanted personal contact when managing their money, and banks began opening more branches in a surge fueled by new players such as Commerce, which models itself as a retail store.” Be that as it may, it seems like operating a bank branch has to be an expensive proposition. And what is the personal contact that people are looking for? I go into a bank about once a month to deposit rent checks that my roommates write me. Were I not the designated writer of The Check that goes to the landlord every month, or had I no roommates, I don’t think I would ever go. My intuition is that the real story here has something to do with the semi-mysterious fact that one almost never sees a bank-affiliated ATM without it being co-located with an actual branch of the bank.