The Federal Reserve Board on Monday released Perspectives from Main Street: Bank Branch Access in Rural Communities, a report that examines how rural consumers and small businesses use bank branches and how their communities have been affected by branch closures.
Of the counties analyzed in the report, more than half lost bank branches between 2012 and 2017, with some predominantly rural counties experiencing considerable declines. The deeply affected rural counties tended to be less economically well off and have residents with lower levels of education. They also had a greater proportion of minority residents relative to other rural counties.
Much of the information in the report was gathered at listening sessions hosted by Federal Reserve Banks across the country between July 2018 and January 2019. The consumers, small business owners, and local government officials who participated in the sessions said that while they have found local or technological substitutes for many, but not all services, the alternatives are generally more costly and less convenient.
Other data and research presented in the report show that despite the increasing use of digital methods to access financial services, branches continue to be important for certain services, including resolving problems, submitting loan applications, and for deposits and withdrawals. The data also show that a majority of small businesses prefer to utilize local banks to access financial services, which may give them greater credit availability and more favorable credit terms. These businesses expressed concern that loan product costs and terms were not always transparent when accessing credit through online lenders.
The research reviewed also found that adoption of digital banking services has been more gradual among consumers who are older, have lower incomes or fewer years of formal education, or who live in rural areas. This lower adoption rate suggests that bank branch closures may present greater challenges for these individuals.