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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 2 years ago

Bank learns harsh lesson in shuttering beloved branch

Bank told customers in a June 13 letter the last day of the Fidelity office will be Sept. 13.

Banks nationwide have been shedding branches at a slow drumbeat for years, saving brick and mortar costs while customers migrate to online and mobile banking.

But an object lesson for bankers in how to handle the logistics of closings — and the impact a decision can have on a brand — is happening on Longboat Key. That’s where Fidelity Bank is set to close a branch. The bank told customers in a June 13 letter the last day of the office, in the Centre Shops of Longboat, will be Sept. 13.

Cue the backlash.

Michael Garey, proprietor of the Lazy Lobster nearby Fidelity, started a petition to keep the in-town branch running, according to a story in the Longboat Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer. “A large segment of the town is sad they’re going to be leaving,” Garey says.

Fidelity grew into a $3 billion asset bank over 45 years, mostly with markets in the Atlanta area and Florida. Ameris Bank, based in southern Georgia and with $11.56 billion in assets through March 31, closed on a $750 million acquisition of Fidelity in July.

Ameris Bank spokeswoman Ann-Stanton Cannarella, in an email to the Longboat Observer, says bank officials “carefully considered” the closure. “The lease expired, and due to our recent merger announcement, we decided to close this branch and consolidate it into our Mt. Vernon location,” Cannarella wrote, citing another office in Bradenton.

Yet Garey and Longboat Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren don’t think Fidelity or Ameris considered the length of the drive from Longboat to Bradenton. The trip from the current branch to the Bradenton branch is 15 minutes one way and longer in season. “I don’t think they really considered the seasonality of our island,” Loefgren says. “These people are not going to spend an hour and a half or two hours in a car to go to that bank.”

In her note, Cannarella, echoing why many banks are closing branches, says there are "several alternative banking solutions,” including, “online banking, mobile banking, telephone banking through our customer service center, cash management and remote deposit capture for our commercial customers."  

Loefgren and Garey, on the flip side, say the closing goes against what community banks say they are: a pillar of the community, down to the chats over cookies and coffee on the lobby. “They’re very supportive and participate in all of the town’s events,” Garey says. “They’re the definition of what a community bank used to be and should be.”

Although the petition has support, the decision isn’t likely to change — and the dent to the bank’s brand could linger. Cannarella, addressing if Ameris/Fidelity would reverse course faced with public outcry, wrote, "a lot of thought, analysis and consideration took place in making the decision to close this branch."


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