Has the once-ubiquitous bank drive-thru reached a dead end? This 'vehicle' for banking convenience and service has been in place for nearly a century. The very first drive-thru was in fact introduced at the Grand National Bank of St. Louis, Missouri in 1930, well before restaurants jumped on board. And the idea of the banking drive-thru still resonates for many consumers with basic transactional needs like cashing checks and making deposits or withdrawals. After all, it really is easy to pull up to the window, pop your paperwork into the drawer and take care of business in minutes without ever leaving the comfort of your car.
However, in today's era of convenience on steroids – ushered in by online and mobile banking, which enable account holders to get bank work done anywhere, any time – drive-thrus aren't nearly as omnipresent as they once were.
So, what's new in drive-thru – and is there any road remaining for this service channel to continue? As is so often the case, it depends.
"Drive-thru bans are designed to reduce air pollution."
Bans on Drive-thrus Adopted in Some Communities
In some parts of the country, the decision about drive-thru installation has literally been taken from industry professionals' hands. As reported by CBS News, a number of community legislators are opting to do away with drive-thrus completely, including those at pharmacies for prescription pickup.
The rationale behind the move is to reduce air pollution, as idling engines contribute to the greenhouse effect. Supporters of the move also say banning drive-thrus cuts down on litter and promotes an active lifestyle by making business districts more walkable. Cities where such prohibitions are in effect include Minneapolis and Orchard Park, New York.
Elsewhere, drive-up banking hasn't gone anywhere and is used primarily for its originally intended purposes, noted Genie Driskell, CEO at Synergistics Research.
"It's convenience and not having to get out of your car," Drisell told American Banker.
The Impact of Mobile Banking
Banks like Wells Fargo – which currently maintains the most U.S. branch locations at nearly 6,000, according to Sapling – have capitalized on the mobile banking revolution by allowing customers to schedule appointments with their tablets and smartphones, thus making drive-thru visits more efficient. At the same time, though, major retail banking institutions like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others have cut down on their drive-thru totals.
Bank of America spokesperson T.J. Crawford noted to NJ.com that in the Garden State, transaction windows for motorists have dipped largely in line with branch closings. The number of in-state branches has fallen from 400 back in 2009 to around 280 as of January 2019. Of these 280, roughly 175 have drive-thru availability. In other words, almost 2/3 offer the extra convenience.
There's no official data on just how many banking-related drive-thrus have been kicked to the curb nationwide, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation spokesperson Greg Hernandez, The Morning Call reported. And state by state data varies depending on mergers and acquisitions, demographic trends and economics. Some areas are seeing no slow-down in drive-up demand.
For Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group and Embassy Bank – which serves the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania – drive-thrus are still running on a full tank.
"A drive-thru in our locations happens to be very important," said Embassy Bank President and CEO David Lobach in an interview with The Morning Call.
He added that as Embassy has increased its footprint in the Keystone State, it's been strategic as to which locations feature drive-thrus, selecting only those that are easily accessible for motorists.
The same is true for TD Bank. Spokesperson Judy Schmidt told NJ.com that at every four branch locations, three have entryways for those who would rather pull up than walk in. That translates to 3,000 lanes nationwide.
"We have not pared down our drive-thru lanes," Schmidt stated. She further explained that in addition to drive-thrus with tellers, TD Bank has aimed to make the most of automation by adding ATMs for those who don't necessarily need to interact with a service professional.
Customer Remains King
How have banks decided to go with or without the drive-thru? It's almost entirely determined by the needs and preferences of their customers. While some communities are accustomed to the traditional branch setup, others – where millennials are now the head of household – have smoothly transitioned to walk-in locations paired with electronic banking.
"These changes are not bank-driven changes," Greg McBride, vice president at Bankrate.com, told NJ.com. "They're consumer-driven."
The market will be the determining factor for the fate of drive-thru. No matter where you are, you will find BranchServ to be the leader in drive-up equipment and service, and a resource for information. In addition to providing all your electronic, physical and branch transformation needs, BranchServ is a thought leader in retail banking. We'll give you our informed judgment on how to optimize all of your transaction channels for your digital, in person or on-the-go customers. Please contact us to learn more.