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If you see a vacant building for lease in the neighborhood, chances are there was a bank there at one point. We’re seeing it at financial institutions big and small — from Citigroup, now operating in fewer cities, to FirstMerit, which is closing 16 branches in four states. 

Between direct deposits and ATMs, walking into a bank isn’t something a lot of people do anymore. Loans are now more by-the-numbers.

Charles Kahn, who teaches finance at the University of Illinois, says it makes sense that banks are closing branches to cut costs — specifically, real estate and personnel costs. Also, Kahn says banks have a lot more competition, from credit card companies and brokerage firms, for instance.

What’s lost when a branch closes? A lot of hand-holding for people who find banking confusing, says Paul Noring, managing director in the Financial Risk Management practice at Navigant, a consulting firm. Noring says a branch is like an ad, "the best way that banks can still reflect their brand with their customers."  

 

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