Bank Branches Slowly Fading Away in Neighborhoods

Can't find a branch of your bank? Get ready to get even more frustrated. Bank branch closures are heading for a record year as the industry trims down and services get increasingly electronic, a survey by SNL Financial shows.

Institutions have shut 2,599 branches in 2014 against 1,137 openings, a net loss of 1,462 that is just off 2013's record full-year total of 1,487. The move brings total U.S. branches down to 94,752, a decline of 1.5 percent. The trend has branches at their lowest aggregate level in at least eight years. Among institutions, Bank of America has been the most aggressive in closing offices, shutting down 41 in the third quarter alone and 148 over the past year. Regionally, the Chicago area has lost the most, with 125 shutting, while Washington, D.C., has been the next hardest hit with 39 closures, according to SNL. Illinois leads the way among states, only six of which showed net additions over the past 12 months. The biggest gainer was Nebraska, with nine new branches. (Go here for a heat map on branch closings.)

Why is this happening? There's been a surge in mergers and acquisitions, primarily concentrated in regional banks but recently spreading to larger ones; the move to e-banking where customers can do most of their tasks either online or at automated tellers; and the economics of a low-interest-rate narrow-yield-curve environment that makes it less profitable to be spread out. General economics also play a role. Advocates have bemoaned the years-long trend of branch closures, with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition saying in a report that "the critical services they provide are essential to the vibrancy of communities." The group said that when branches close it opens to door to, among other things, predatory lenders.

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-- Jeff Cox, CNBC