Is there a future for the drive-through teller, once a symbol of banking convenience for a nation on the go?
Bank of America Corp. says it is phasing out some of its drive-through teller services in Massachusetts and elsewhere across the country because of declining traffic.
The nation’s second-largest bank has closed two of its teller windows in Dorchester and West Boylston since July and will eliminate two others in Worcester and Tewksbury on Sept. 9.
The bank will continue to evaluate its remaining 50 Massachusetts locations featuring drive-through tellers, said spokesman T.J. Crawford.
The drive-through teller, like many other services, is finding it harder than ever to compete with the conveniences of technology. At a time when customers can deposit a check by taking a photo of it on their mobile phone or visiting an automated teller machine 24 hours a day, the idea of stuffing checks and deposit slips into a cylinder, sending it through a vacuum tube, and communicating with the teller through a static-y intercom seems almost quaint.
In July, Bank of America had 13 million mobile banking customers who used their smartphones to deposit an average of 100,000 checks per day.
For many customers, computers and phones have replaced the drive-through teller, which was introduced in 1930, almost two decades after Ford Motor Co. rolled out the Model T.
Thirty years ago, drive-through teller service was a point of pride for banks, some of which built 10 to 15 bays at one branch, said Bob Hedges, managing director at AlixPartners, a Michigan business consultancy.
But the ability to directly deposit paychecks and the use of debit cards to withdraw cash at the grocery store started to chip away at the model. That decline has only accelerated in the past five years with mobile and online banking, he said.
Between the end of 2011 and June 2013, the consumer traffic to bank branches to deposit checks declined by 25 percent, Hedges said.
“It’s akin to what’s happened to the Blockbuster video and pay phones and even landlines to a house,” he said of the drive-through teller.
Bank of America doesn’t expect the move to create a substantial savings, as no tellers are expected to lose their jobs, Crawford said.
“This,” he said, “is less about cost-cutting and more about being responsive to the changing behaviors of our customers.”
But other banks aren’t so anxious to eliminate drive-through service with real tellers. Officials at Citizens Bank and TD Bank said they have no plans to change their drive-through teller services.
And unless demand drops dramatically, it does not make sense to get rid of a service that some customers love, said Suzanne Moot, a Milton banking consultant.
“I don’t see benefits to the bank, and all I see is an inconvenience to the customer,” Moot said.
Still, the phasing out of drive-throughs is another sign of how banks are evaluating their branch networks and the services customers want at brick-and-mortar sites.
Bank of America is aggressively pruning its branches to cut costs and expects to have about 5,000 offices by the end of next year, almost 700 fewer than it operated in 2012.
“It’s not that the branch will go away totally,” said Jens Baumgarten, the lead partner for financial services at Simon-Kucher & Partners, a New York consulting company.
“But the branch will be a different animal from what it is today.”
And Bank of America customers will still be able do business from their cars.
The four Massachusetts sites that are losing drive-through tellers all offer drive-up ATMs.
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