Pa. leads U.S. in bank-branch closings

Pennsylvania, the sixth-largest U.S. state by population, is number one for the number of bank branches that have closed since the recession year 2008.

More than 500 Pennsylvania bank branches, or 1 in 9, have shut in the past eight years, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. (That's a net number, discounting the small number of new branches against closings.)

Illinois, Florida, and Georgia each recorded over 400 shutdowns. More than 300 New Jersey branches shut, or 1 in 10.

The branch-closing rate was almost double the state's high level in the Philadelphia area — 19 percent in Philadelphia, 18 percent in Montgomery County — according to this report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (corrected).

Where are all the branches going? Banks have shut formerly competing branches after mergers. They have also closed marginally-profitable offices as more customers do their banking online.

Are there enough branches left? The national network of around 87,000 bank branches — down from 95,000 in 2008 — works out to around 1 bank location per 3,700 Americans. In generally affluent Montgomery County, even after the recent closings, there is still one branch per 2,700 residents. But in Philadelphia, home to many of the poorest Pennsylvanians, banks are relatively scarce: the city showed 1 branch per 5,600 residents, less than half the concentration in Montco.

In recent years, Wells Fargo, whose 6,000-plus branches make it the largest national network, tried to keep its branch network profitable by paying staff to open new accounts.

But last year, the bank forced CEO John Stumpf out of office, changed its new-accounts policy, and agreed to pay multimillion-dollar fines after admitting it fired more than 5,000 workers for making up phony accounts. Workers have said they felt pressured to break the law or risk losing pay.

Big branch closers in Pennsylvania include PNC, the largest Pennsylvania-based bank, which shut 96 branches in the commonwealth in 2008-16, leaving around 330; Citizens, which closed 47; and Wells Fargo, which closed around 34. 

Wells Fargo plans to accelerate U.S. branch closings this year and next, chief executive Tim Sloan told investors in January.