The Snarketing Perspective On Bank Branch Closings

If you haven’t figured it out already, I have an issue with some of the bloggers on Forbes.com. It boggles my mind that Forbes lets some of them publish under the Forbes banner. The quality of some posts is nowhere near Forbes’ (usually) high standards.

The latest offender is an article titled ATMs Not The Only Things Disappearing At Bank Of America, It’s Closed The Most Branches Too. In it, the author writes:

“Over the last year BofA has shut down 163 branches. That’s the greatest number of closings for any U.S. bank. It’s opened just six in the same period for a net of 157 branches closed. BofA’s ATM and bank branch closures shouldn’t come as big surprise as its CEO Brian Moynihan looks for ways to cut expenses. Last year the he announced Project New BAC which he said would slash 30,000 jobs and cut costs by $5 billion by the end of 2012. Still, even with the greatest number of branch closures BofA is still #2 in the country with 5,858 branches nationwide in front of JPMorgan Chase‘s 5,442.”

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OK, first the nit-picky stuff.

The word “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.” So, in the title of the article, saying “it’s closed the most branches” is incorrect. It should be “it has closed the most branches.” Same mistake as in the third sentence in the quote.

Second, when discussing numbers, you say “that’s the largest number…” not “that’s the greatest number…” Great is an inappropriate word to use in that context.

Third, the lack of proof-reading on Forbes’ blog posts kills me.. “Last year the he announced…”? Oh wait, is “the he” the new way of referring to Mr. Moynihan? (Did I ever tell you about the time I met him? Maybe in a future blog post). I might point out that it should be “shouldn’t come as a big surprise…” but I’m afraid someone will accuse me of going overboard here.

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Now for the more substantive comments.

When you’re the biggest or largest (but not necessarily the “greatest”, right?) player in a space, having the most [fill-in-the-blanks] is never a surprise. What’s news is not absolute numbers, but percentages.

But, of course — here comes the Snarketing slam — when your objective is to simply write a puff piece jumping on the BofA bashing bandwagon, you ignore that, and try to make news out of the absolute number.

The real story in the SNL data isn’t Bank of America. Even if you’re a bank basher.

Despite closing the largest number of branches, BofA only closed 3% of its branches (betcha the Forbes blogger would have written that as “it’s”).

Five other banks, however, closed 10% or more of their branches, including International Bancshares, which closed one in four of its branches, and Old National, which closed one in five in the past 12 months.

Granted, these five banks aren’t as high profile as BofA. But combined, the five of them closed 173 of the 1,093 branches they started off with at the beginning of Q3 2011.  That’s 16%, or more than five times larger than the percentage of branches that BofA closed (163 divided by 5,858 = 3% in case the Forbes blogger’s math is as bad as her grammar).

Here’s something else more newsworthy coming out of the SNL report: JP Morgan Chase opened 243 new branches in the past year. In other words, of the 1,234 new branches opened in the past 12 months, one bank (JP Morgan Chase, for those of you having trouble following this) accounted for 20% of the openings.

I hear you saying, “You’re violating your own rule, Snarketing boy. It’s not how many branches Chase opened, but what percentage of its branches are new!” How quickly you learn, grasshoppers!

Yes, just 4% of Chase’s branches are newly opened in the past year. But of the banks on SNL’s list, only two have a higher percentage: Huntington with 8% of its branches opened in the past 12 months. and First Community, where one in five branches have been opened in the past year. And I have no idea who or what First Community is, so they don’t count. So sit back down, junior statisticians, the Chase number is still meaningful.

That concludes today’s Quantipulation lesson.

Oh, and if you think I’m being too tough on the Forbes blogger’s grammar, read I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.

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