Banks added 10,000 branches in boom

DALLAS – Banks expanded at a breathtaking pace over the past five years, adding more than 10,000 full-service branches, but barely 1 in 10 were in inner-city, minority neighborhoods, another sign the financial spending spree skipped over substantial

DALLAS – Banks expanded at a breathtaking pace over the past five years, adding more than 10,000 full-service branches, but barely one in 10 were in inner-city, minority neighborhoods, another sign the financial spending spree skipped over substantial parts of the country.

The discrepancy means millions of people who don’t live near a bank have had to hand over $2, $5 or $10 at a time – sometimes even more – in service fees to nonbank outlets to conduct basic transactions such as cashing checks or paying bills that most bank customers take for granted.

Meanwhile, bank growth either declined or remained stagnant across wide swaths of the nation’s inner cities, with branches closing in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

Data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. shows that the nation’s 99,000 banks generally followed the money. About two-thirds of all neighborhoods have a median household income higher than the national average; about two-thirds of the new bank branches were in those neighborhoods.

An Associated Press analysis, however, found that branches weren’t added at a proportionate rate in minority neighborhoods. About one-third of the neighborhoods analyzed are predominantly minority, according to the Census Bureau; only about one in 10 new bank branches showed up in those areas.

The AP study was reviewed by the American Bankers Association and is consistent with other federal studies.

"It’s like the proverbial ambulance chasers," said Charles O’Neal, a vice president at the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce. "They’re all chasing the same dollar and they get little return. Meanwhile, on this side of town, folks are literally spending sleepless nights trying to figure out where do we go to find a financial institution that will be responsive to their needs."

Bank officials say they are following the growth of customers to continue providing services because most people choose banks based on branch locations.

Bank watchdogs, however, say less-regulated financial institutions are filling the void and expanding at the expense of vulnerable, inner-city residents. As a result, they are relying on high-cost lending businesses for services traditionally provided by bank branches.

"When you don’t have banks going into poor communities, you’re going to wind up with places where there are a lot of predatory products," said Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, a Washington-based advocacy group. "It’s not always the case – payday lending seems to target Black and Hispanic neighborhoods regardless of income level or bank location – but it’s a real problem."

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