TAMPA — The smartphone, some say, may soon make the bank drive-up teller window as old fashioned as your great-grandparents' Model T.
So starting Monday, Bank of America is closing drive-up teller windows at select branches in the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida.
The bank says the move is a response to customers who are doing more of their banking with their smartphones.
Bank of America is closing windows at 14 banks in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. The company would not say how many branches are losing teller drive-up windows across Florida. The closures are taking place either Monday or on July 6.
The bank declined to say if the closures will result in job losses.
The bank began closing drive-up windows in other states as early as 2013, citing declining traffic as more customers bank using their mobile devices.
Bank of America officials say they now have 17 million mobile banking customers making 200,000 deposits a day. They paid 19 million bills in the first quarter of 2015 while logging into their accounts 625 million times, the bank said.
"We're adapting to changes in customer behavior and preferences," said Bank of America spokeswoman Tara Burke. "This is not something new. We've been seeing this change in behavior over a long period of time. We didn't just wake up one day and decide to do this. We really just studied the behavior of our customers."
Burke and other Bank of America officials stressed that the majority of their branches in Florida still have drive-up teller windows. And where windows are closed, they said, drive-up service will still be available relatively close by. And the bank said it also has opened additional ATMs. These include what the bank calls "ATMs with teller assist."
These are video ATMs where customers can talk to a teller at a remote location. The bank said it has 194 of these machines in Florida, including Tampa Bay.
Bank officials vehemently deny that the closures are a result of a need to cut costs.
Some analysts are skeptical.
Miami banking consultant Ken Thomas said the closure of drive-up teller windows is not a wide trend in the banking industry. He said Bank of America is struggling financially.
"It's definitely not a trend," Thomas said. "But because they are the Godzilla of the industry, people think whatever they do is a trend. They have to be careful. If they push too hard in the direction of high tech, some other bank will pick up the slack. Ultimately banking is a personal service industry."
Bank of America, like many financial institutions, has struggled since the Great Recession. The company reported $21.4 billion in first quarter revenue in 2015, down 5.9 percent from the prior year, according to Forbes. But its net income was $3.36 billion. That was up from $276 million a year ago when the bank faced enormous legal costs over its 2008 acquisition of subprime mortgage giant Countrywide Financial and investment bank Merrill Lynch.
CEO Brian Moynihan cited "good expense control" in a statement last month when the earnings report was released.
Nancy Bush, a banking research analyst, said the fact that the bank tested the waters elsewhere before closing windows in Florida may indicate the strategy was successful and didn't drive customers away.
"They are very aggressively trying to push consumer behavior toward less expensive methods of banking using fewer personnel," Bush said. "They're no different than the rest of the industry."
Bill McCracken, chief operating officer of Synergistic Research Corp., said the closures would certainly lessen costs. But he said Bank of America and other institutions embracing technology are doing so because it's what their customers demand, not out of financial necessity.
"A drastic change is sweeping banking in this country," he said. "They're asking, 'What do our branches need to look like?' What everyone knows is they can't look like they did in the past. That's not where banking is headed. … Banks are trying to catch up to their customers. They're on their iPhones and their iPads and smartphones. It's a mobile world."
And McCracken said banks study their demographics carefully, tailoring their branches to the population. Near a college campus, he said, a bank may close a drive-up window. But in a neighborhood with a higher percentage of retirees, the bank might keep its teller windows, McCracken said.
Greg McBride, a senior analyst at Bankrate.com, told the Charlotte Business Journal in 2013 that banks will move increasingly to the Web.
"There's just not as much need for a drive-up lane with a teller," he said. "Consumer behavior leads to innovation and change, not the other way around."
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432. Follow @Times_Levesque.