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The racial divide in access to physical banks


Although there is evidence bank branches still matter, the Bank of America branch near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall is temporarily closed, along with the branch at Broadway near Manchester Boulevard. The branch at Crenshaw Boulevard and 57th Street is closed permanently along with the branch at Western Avenue south of Manchester Boulevard.

U.S. banking institutions are closing more of their branches in majority-Black communities — including high-income ones — than in all other communities, a 2019 analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence found.

Since 2010, the branch footprint in majority-Black areas has shrunk 14.6%, compared to 9.7% in all other communities, with the nation’s two largest banks — JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. — playing significant roles.

When researching “nearest Bank of America locations” at, the list of locations actually included some of the closed branches.

Their branch at 57th & Crenshaw was serving the financial needs of customers in South Los Angeles since 1927, according to the website.

“I do know that the Crenshaw & 57th branch was closed a few years ago but the ATMs remain,” wrote Colleen Haggerty, the bank’s senior vice president of media relations in an email. “We have also been temporarily consolidating resources and staffing since the pandemic began, so some branches have been closed over that time when we have other branches within a few miles — this is something we have done nationwide in all communities.”

According to its website, Bank of America is currently operating 3717 offices in 37 states. “Account holders can continue banking at other nearby branches that are shown on the map above,” the site reads. “The list on the right also shows alternative locations sorted by their distance to the closed branch.”

All of the listed branches, even those which have closed recently, are two to three miles away from that location. Quite a distance to walk, if one does not have or cannot use available transportation.

“Brick and mortar branches in the communities will always be an important part of how we serve our customers,” Haggerty wrote. “Our Broadway/Manchester branch is temporarily closed because it is being remodeled and work has unfortunately experienced delays with city permits.  The next nearest open financial center to this one is on Avalon just north of Florence.”

Haggerty went on to explain that the Crenshaw Center branch was temporarily closed to help consolidate staffing and resources amongst the nearby financial centers.

“We plan to reopen Crenshaw Center at the end of September,” she wrote, adding that the next nearest open financial centers to this one are on Crenshaw and 29th and the Martin Luther King and Western location.

“We certainly understand that encountering a closed branch can be frustrating and we apologize for the inconvenience,” Haggerty said. “We still have about a dozen open financial centers across South Los Angeles, many with expanded hours of operation to serve this important community.”

Both of the temporarily closed locations still have full-service ATMs onsite that handle the most common banking transactions.

Ironically, on its “Better Money Habits” page, the Bank of America website has a section called “10 questions to ask when opening a bank account.” Question number five: “Is there a branch nearby?” The page goes on to explain “Unless you don’t mind doing all your banking online or over the phone, you might want to consider an institution with a branch close to your work or home. It may be worth spending some time on the bank’s website to figure out what transactions will require you to visit a branch.”

Of course, the bank site also suggests downloading its Mobile Banking app and enrolling in text banking.

Crystal Mitchell, of Recycling Black Dollars, banks at a smaller, local bank and doesn’t do much e-banking.

“I still walk in,” she said of banking at a brick and mortar site. “I like the feel of it. It’s my ‘Cheers’ moment—everybody knows me by name.”

Many small business owners struggle to raise the financial capital they need to launch or expand their business. That challenge is compounded for many minority and women-owned businesses, who have been historically excluded from loan programs. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,  many small businesses didn’t receive federal PPP loans – simply because they lacked relationships with banks and financial institutions.

Mitchell was hosting a recent “Community Briefing” session, a regular Thursday morning Zoom meeting which is coordinated through her organization along with the Black Business Association; the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation; and the City of Los Angeles Business Source.

She and other attendees spoke to Wendell Brown, supplier diversity program manager at Wells Fargo Bank regarding how Black business owners could better establish connections with banks in order to get loans and other assistance.

“Procurement is about relationships,” Mitchell said, noting that it is tough to build relationships with bankers when branches are closed.

“My day job is meeting with business leaders across our bank,” Brown said. “We partner to help find best certified, diversified businesses to work with our bank.”

Brown explained that Wells Fargo offers to take businesses through executive education and supplier development workshops to help them build skill and knowledge so they can be  ready to do business with Fortune 500 companies. He recommended businesses register on the bank’s portal.

“Getting certified provides you access,” Brown said.  “I’m an advocate for diverse businesses that don’t have a seat at the table.” Mitchell agreed.

“If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re most likely on the menu,” she said.

When asked about bank closures, Brown admitted that during this tech age, consumers are going to see a transformation of the banking network, where they utilize online and mobile options.

“Banking’s going digital,” he said. “We have representation in diverse communities across the nation. When you compare us to some competitors, we actually have the most branches across the nation. We’re still in the marketplace.”

Some participants, including Lawrence Johnson of El Camino College’s  Small Business Development Center, recommended that readers utilize credit unions and local community banks.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.