Banking is as old as civilization itself. It’s said that ancient couriers taking goods from one settlement to the next would receive loans in the form of grain.
In fact, the basic definition of this industry involves extending credit, and earning money through charged interest on that credit.
That’s changed significantly over the centuries, as banks have become a primary tool in handling nearly all of our financial needs — from providing a safe place to store money (and maybe earn interest of our own) to simply providing a pathway to pay for purchases and services through bank cards, and even smartphones and wearable technology like the Apple Watch.
Since the ATM was popularized in the early 1980s, the need to physically visit banks and wait for an available teller has gradually diminished. Today, nearly half of all Americans bank online, and they range in age from teenagers to those well beyond retirement years.
Yet, there’s still something special about visiting a bank. Maybe it’s the smell of money. Or the bowl of candy. Or enough plexiglass-like shielding to make anyone feel safe in even the worst global pandemic.
And it’s probably that very reason why there are so many physical bank branches despite the fact that three-quarters of all American adults don’t need those branches anymore.
There are nearly 150 bank branches within a five-mile radius from the center of Riverdale — and that’s not even including banks across the Hudson River. More than a third of those branches are operated by Chase Bank, according to BankBranchLocator.com, with Citibank a distant second.
All the attention, however, is on just one branch in Knolls Crescent that Chase decided to close. It’s not alone — banks are shuttering branches across the country. In the last decade alone, the number of branches in this country shrunk by nearly 13 percent, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Even when there were more branches, there are many neighborhoods that don’t have a bank within walking distance. Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it creates more obstacles for those who are not as mobile, and for businesses needing to make regular cash deposits.
But it’s not the end of everything.
A recent rally seemed more about someone’s political ambition than actually saving the bank — since it’s doubtful all the petition signatures in the world are going to get a multibillion-dollar company to reconsider closing one of its nearly 5,000 branches nationwide.
Many who did attend that rally, however, want that bank to stay. We’d like the bank to stay, too. It’s been a good neighbor to Knolls Crescent, it seems, and we don’t need yet another empty storefront in that business district.
However, can’t we also share that passion for others? Like many of the mom-and-pop businesses we are losing?
Where was the rally for Riverdale Nursery School? Where was the outrage over the closing of Land & Sea Restaurant? Where were those dollars when it came time to help the Kingsbridge Donut Shop?
These businesses are just a short walk from the offices of at least two elected officials, but they didn’t even qualify for meaningless lip service.
It’s hard to empathize with the loss of a massive bank when we are losing good small businesses. And while we should fight for those banks, we should fight just as hard for the little guy, too.