In-person banking could become a challenge in Orange County as branches close

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Customers were frustrated in Orange County as they showed up to deposit checks, only to find branches closed.






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One of those Bank of America branches in Laguna Niguel has been temporarily closed after the company said it began consolidating its branches and staff during the pandemic.

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Customers can use the ATM, but there is no one to take a deposit or cash a check.

“They don’t have a lot of help when they are open anyway, so it amazes me that the staffing level cannot be maintained,” said client Rene Carlis.

Banking experts say there have been a lot of changes between when everyone was forced to stay home and now.

“Everyone is sort of getting back to normal. I don’t see why companies don’t do the same,” said client Fabrizia Gambino.

They say more people switched to online services, which meant fewer cashiers were needed inside the bank.

Today, banks are reassessing the way they operate.

Beth Mills of the California Bankers Association said the traditional style of having teller lines at a bank may be on the way out, and that a “futuristic” type of kiosk style with financial advisers on hand to help. customers could be in place.

This idea may not be suitable for all customers.

Alec Walker said he was a die-hard brick-and-mortar customer. He says he opened his account at Farmers and Merchants Bank in San Juan Capistrano when he was in high school.

“I know I’m safe when I come here. I know how the bank works and I know the people at the bank,” he said.

When the pandemic struck, Long Beach-based Farmers and Merchants Bank sent 300 of its 800 employees to work from home. They still do. The cashiers remained on site. Bank officials say they have never closed any of their 25 branches or shortened their opening hours.

“We felt obligated to the employees,” said CEO Daniel Walker.

According to the FDIC, 3,400 banks closed in 2020, but another 1,000 opened, mostly in areas where customers are less likely to bank online.

The California Bankers Association says 10 years ago they thought branches like Laguna Niguel would be gone, but they say it’s an ongoing development.

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