Bank of America Plans to Eliminate Human Bankers from Cortland Branch

BankofAmerica1936

Action Alert: Bank of America has announced plans to eliminate human tellers from the bank’s Cortland Branch.

Bernalwood visited the Cortland Branch yesterday to confirm the rumors that have been swirling around the neighborhood for the last few days.

We were told that BofA does indeed plan to turn the Cortland Branch into an Express Banking Center. That means the building is slated to undergo significant remodeling, with human tellers replaced by a zeal of indoor ATM machines. Safe deposit boxes will be eliminated along with the tellers, but the site will be staffed by non-banker humans to assist with account-management issues. The remaining humans will be customer support people, basically.

As currently envisioned, remodeling will begin in April, with the branch set to reopen in July.

The B of A on Cortland has been there for a long time. A really long time; almost 100 years, practically since the time of the ancient Bernal druids. Which is to say, the B of A on Cortland is very much a local institution. During Bernalwood’s visit yesterday, the Cortland branch was bustling; There was a short line to visit the tellers, as a few more customers waited patiently on chairs to talk with a personal banker. While they still can.

Neighbor Darcy Lee from Heartfelt on Cortland was very sad to hear about BofA’s plan for the Cortland Branch, and she is rallying to keep the human bank tellers there. Neighbor Darcy writes:

As you might know, the B of A plans on renovating our branch to make it indoor ATMs.

I just went in the bank; There were 4 senior citizens waiting for service and 3 merchants in line. I could have made a video right then and there why a neighborhood branch is so important. B of A owns the building, and they want to make it an indoor ATM. They want to stay in Bernal, but just change what they provide.

This has a big impact on us as merchants, and that further extends to our customers that use the bank. There are many senior citizens that use this as a resource in Bernal.

All of us as merchants need money — actual coins and bills — sometimes multiple times in one day. We also make large cash deposits (or, at least hopefully large). From my observation over the years, this bank takes the time to explain to their elderly population often not English speakers what is going on with their accounts and statement charges.

B of A has made this announcement when their process is pretty far along, but I want to fight it.

Stay tuned for more details, but if you’d like to find out more, check in with Neighbor Darcy at Heartfelt.

UPDATE: In the comments, Neighbor Darcy adds:

HI all, Darcy here… thanks for your input- it is helpful to hear what you have to say. Please note that many folks that bank there do not read Bernalwood. There have always been safety issues with this branch, a few botched robberies over the years thus the bullet proof glass, a senior citizen mugged at the ATM. A door that opens during business hours without having to use your ATM card seems important to me, literally and symbolically. I do not feel it is an issue of “yeeesh old folks can learn to use a technology that has been around a long time”. For me it is an issue of letting an institution know that their decision made many miles from 94110 is affecting us. If you have ideas for the cause email me at info@heartfeltsf.com and if you have an account you will close because of this change please also let me know.

PHOTO: “Crowd of people standing outside the Bernal Heights branch of the Bank of America, on Cortland Avenue, after a bank robbery” December 24, 1936, via SFPL Image Library

38 thoughts on “Bank of America Plans to Eliminate Human Bankers from Cortland Branch

  1. If you choose BofA over a credit union, you deserve whatever grief you get.

    And don’t give me this “I only have an account at BofA because they have so many ATMs” bullshit.

    With my CU, I can take out cash with purchases at just about any store with no fee, and I can deposit checks using my iPhone.

    • i think you’re missing the point. merchants need to have humans to work with on a daily basis..having a real bank that they can walk to for deposits and cash is a blessing and elderly folks need human assistance. sure a credit union may be your choice and your dislike of banks suit your needs but there are other factors for other people…take your head out of your (fill in the blank)

      • There absolutely should be a credit union on Cortland! I ‘moved my money’ out of Chase and into Community Trust on Mission and 29th in 2011 only to see them close their Bernal Heights branch last Summer. At the very least, Community Trust should lose its ‘Bernal Bucks’ sponsorship for leaving the neighborhood. I’m quite conflicted about the BofA plan because I really dislike the way their business operates. However, I totally sympathize with the local merchants and elderly who rely on it, not to mention branch workers who may find themselves out of work as a result. Cortland does not need fewer jobs on the street imo. I’d be totally willing to do whatever necessary to bring a Credit Union back to ANYWHERE in Bernal, especially Cortland st. Then we could watch how BofA does with a bit of local competition.

      • “I’d be totally willing to do whatever necessary to bring a Credit Union back to ANYWHERE in Bernal,”

        PV does that mean you are capitalizing and chartering one? When are you applying to the state regulators?

      • @Judge, unfortunately I’m not capitalizing or chartering one (I even had to give pause to figure out exactly what those words meant!). What I am saying, or rather asking, is ‘what might it take to convince a credit union to set up shop in Bernal again?’ I’m not an expert on the logistics or feasibility of making that happen, but I do know that businesses like to open up shop where people will having value them. Also what I’m saying is I’d be happy to do my part, whatever it might entail, to help bring a credit union back to the neighborhood. I tried hard to convince Community Trust not to leave, I don’t know if anyone else did the same. I wish I’d had the foresight to have told Todd about it at the time and have had some sort of community support/organizing like I’m seeing for BofA now.

  2. I’m torn between contempt for BofA and their long history of fraud and sketchiness, and sympathy for the older folks in the neighborhood who aren’t necessarily up for dealing with all the latest technology (and won’t have the choice of a full featured credit union right down the street anytime soon).

  3. This will be a great hardship for the residents and merchants of Bernal. I am elderly and walk with a walker. I count on them helping me with my deposits and cashing checks, The clerks have always been terrific. Banking seems to becoming very impersonal. Hope we can change their mind. This happened once before when they wanted to close and Bernal came to the rescue. Let’s hope they change their mind.

  4. A bank, especially one that’s run by a publicly-traded corporation, will always be working to cut costs. What matters to them is decreasing costs and increasing profits. Sadly for them, shareholders believe in “what have you done for me lately?” so last quarter’s profits are just yesterday’s news. So there is always pressure to create value, even if it means nothing constructive.

    re: credit union, I hear people like the SFFD Credit Union which you can join if you’re an SF resident.

    • Patelco CU is also available to all SF residents.

      What you describe is the underlying downside of capitalism, where the permeant pursuit of additional profits takes precedence over all else.

  5. There are other smaller banks in SF as well that provide the services you mention as well. But the issue being discussed here is the location and the business users. If a credit union with decent merchant services opened up in the BofA space, I doubt anyone would complain.

  6. I will have to move to the B of A on Mission or the Credit Union. I refuse to deposit my checks (I get many from all my music students) via a machine after a disastrous experience with my previous bank. I write down the name of the teller after every deposit. My previous experience, where I did not have a paper trail and could not name the tellers who helped me resulted in my credit being ruined for 9 years because of a bank error. If this change goes through, I’ll have to change banks- or at least my branch.

    • Oddly, the only bad deposit experience I’ve ever had was in person at a B of A branch. The teller misread the amount on the check (a lesser amount than what the check was written for, which was withdrawn—however that works), which I didn’t discover until I got a notice saying my mortgage was past due for being short the difference. I suppose it’s just the luck of the draw no matter what your approach.

  7. For merchants and businesses in Cortland, it is truly a great convenience that the branch is located right here. It really isn’t about anything else other than it being a short distance to walk CASH and checks to the deposit. It really matters.

  8. In 1992, The Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center led a fight to keep B of A here for the very same reasons mentioned here. Many of us felt the same conflict about fighting to keep a mega-corporate institution in our generally progressive neighborhood. But we decided to fight for our seniors and merchants who are part of the lifeblood of our community. That hasn’t changed. In 1992, the agreement reached with them was that if the BHNC organized a specific number of people (I forget the number) to open an account, they would stay. BHNC was successful.
    So, what do we do now? Nothing is ever accomplished against corporate power without a fight. There seems to be two paths. Either convince them to stay for some price they can live with or find another financial institution and pressure B of A to either sell or lease to them. I doubt they’ll negotiate unless the price of not negotiating is high enough.
    Who leads the fight? Darcy seems to have taken on leadership in this (and many other community initiatives). Is BHNC going to get involved? Are other merchants and residents?

    Steve Shapiro

  9. Just curious, how long does a technology need to be around before it is expected that everyone regardless of their age adapt to the technology? ATMs were introduced in the 1970s and became commonplace in the 80s. Then again, my parents managed to get through life without ever learning to program a VCR and I don’t think they have to worry about not knowing how to now.

  10. I have 2 business accounts and one personal account with BofA. The only reason I opened any of those was because for the past 25 years I’ve lived a short walk from a BofA branch.

    Mostly, BofA sucks. I could fill a page with problems they’ve caused me over the years. Including problems not solved by the folks at the Bernal Branch, who don’t seem to be able to do or know anything.

    Still, lazy is lazy, so I’ve kept the accounts because I can walk to a branch and do what needs doing that one time a year I can’t take care of things via smartphone app, website, or phone calls.

    If this branch closes, I’ll almost certainly close my accounts. Because they’ll be fewer lazy reasons to keep them open.

    I’ll send a message along these lines to BofA., Not to make any threats. Just to let them know. If they count new accounts, they should probably also count accounts that will be closed.

    I’m sympathetic to the local businesses. But they’ll find a way to adjust. I’ve worked in retail stores where I couldn’t walk to a bank. We survived.

    As for the elderly, I’m also sympathetic. But ATMs have been around for over 30 years. Unless they are currently over 100 years old, they really should have learned how to work one by now. My grandmother learned how to use a dial telephone. And a fax. Those were crazy new technologies at one time.

    • I am a senior–still getting used to the term–with an account at the Bernal B of A, and I am quite comfortable with ATM’s. However, at the branch I also have a safety deposit box, which will no longer be available at the proposed Express site. I love walking to Cortland and taking care of everything from banking to Good Life to Heartfelt to coffee. No drives to Mission or Noe, everything in the neighborhood, and, frequently, with all errands walkable. I’d love to see a credit union move in, but I’ll join the fight to keep the B of A open, the staff employed, and full service.

    • I contacted BoF yesterday via their website and let them know my thoughts. This branch is probably the only reason I have multiple accounts with BofA instead of Wells Fargo or credit unions. And I’ll most likely be closing these accounts. No crazy demands or threats.

      Got a quick reply, saying pretty much what we would all expect.

      I’m a valued customer… blah blah blah…

      “This decision is driven primarily by a decline in transactions, as customers increasingly rely on other channels including mobile and online banking.”

      I didn’t mention the safety deposit box, as I don’t have one there.

      It they are going to have any staff on site for any reason, it seems possible that they could find a way to maintain boxes. That might be the most reasonable request to make.

  11. HI all, Darcy here… thanks for your input- it is helpful to hear what you have to say. Please note that many folks that bank there do not read Bernalwood. There have always been safety issues with this branch, a few botched robberies over the years thus the bullet proof glass, a senior citizen mugged at the ATM. A door that opens during business hours without having to use your ATM card seems important to me, literally and symbolically. I do not feel it is an issue of “yeeesh old folks can learn to use a technology that has been around a long time”. For me it is an issue of letting an institution know that their decision made many miles from 94110 is affecting us. If you have ideas for the cause email me at info@heartfeltsf.com and if you have an account you will close because of this change please also let me know.

  12. It’s sad for the people who benefit from that branch that BofA is pulling out, and for the historical significance; but as people have pointed out, public corporations are accountable to their profits and not much else, so it’s not particularly surprising. I switched to SF Fire Credit Union a long time ago, and love their service, and I think they’d be a much better fit for our community. I reached out to their CEO to ask them to consider a Bernal branch. Maybe if others do as well they might take the suggestion more seriously. https://www.sffirecu.org/

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