Make ATMs Great Again: Bank Of America Opens Branches Without Employees

McDonalds replacing minimum-wage workers with "Big Mac ATMs"; Coffee stores replacing low-paid barristas with robots, and now Bank of America opening branches with no workers at all.

According to Reuters, the latest trend when it comes to retail banking is to do what every other industry is doing, and eliminate paid labor entirely. In that vein, Bank of America, has opened three completely automated branches over the past month, "where customers can use ATMs and have video conferences with employees at other branches."

Like many U.S. banks in recent years, Bank of America has been reducing its overall branch count to cut costs even as it opens new branches in select markets. New branches are typically smaller, employ more technology, and are aimed at selling mortgages, credit cards and auto loans rather than simple transactions such as cashing checks. The move is similar to a parallel shift away from active, and highly paid, management, to robotic, algo, and other generally passive, and much cheaper, forms of asset management. Only here we are talking about near-minimum wage jobs quietly going extinct.

It was not immediately clear if the robots have learned the sneakier "cross-selling" techniques from Wells Fargo, or how to churn one's account with excess fees as per JPMorgan. 

Bank of America spokeswoman Anne Pace said there is one completely automated branch in Minneapolis and one in Denver, both of which are relatively new markets for the bank's consumer business. They are about a quarter of the size of a typical branch. The new branches were mentioned briefly Tuesday by Dean Athanasia, co-head of Bank of America's consumer banking unit, during a question and answer session at an investor conference, but he did not provide details.

In keeping with the unstated zero net new hires policy, Athanasia said Bank of America will open 50 to 60 new branches over the next year, though Pace said the bank will also be closing branches in certain markets, so the 50 to 60 branches do not represent a net increase. Assuming all of the new branches amount to zero new jobs, then they will also represent no increase in employment either.

Bank of America opened 31 new branches in 2016.

And since this trend of anti-retrofitting of existing branchs, those with workers, for new branches without, is just starting, Bank of America - which had 4,579 financial centers at the end of 2016, compared to 4,726 in 2015 and 5,900 at the end of 2010 - is about to make American robots and ATM machines great again. It is not clear just what angry Tweet trump can shoot out to make BofA changes its mind.