The list includes offices along Wayne Avenue in White Township and Main Street in Plumville.
“We now have about half of our clients who don’t use the branches at all,” bank CEO T. Michael Price said Tuesday. “The customers are making different choices.”
Most of the 29 branches will close in December, while one on Pittsburgh’s South Side will be shuttered in March.
Ten are throughout the more rural western and central “Community PA” area, a region that includes Indiana, Greensburg, DuBois, Williamsport, Altoona, Johnstown, Somerset, Bedford and State College.
Eleven locations are in the greater Pittsburgh area, which extends out to a branch and a drive-thru location that will close near Leechburg. Eight are in the bank’s Ohio markets.
While bank officials conceded that much of the trend away from teller transactions was accelerated by circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, they said they have been watching those trends evolve for years.
“Even pre-pandemic,” FCB officials said in a news release, “we’ve watched teller transactions decrease 15-20 percent annually over the past 4-5 years as branches become less of a place to do transactions. During that same time period, our digital banking adoption has tripled with almost three quarters of our customer base using digital banking.”
Still, Price said he remains bullish on branches, and that FCB has the most robust network of branches in the Indiana area.
And as FCB officials said, branches have remained integral, particularly to small businesses, as a place to solve problems and discuss more intricate banking needs.
Price said the consolidation would mean “hopefully zero” layoffs or maybe a number one could count on two hands. As of June 30, FCB had 1,465 employees, down from 1,510 on March 31 but up from 1,438 a year ago.
Personnel practices such as a hiring freeze when the pandemic emergency began and a policy of promoting people within the company are credited with keeping the job impact of this decision down, Price said.
“We instituted (the hiring freeze) knowing because of the pandemic we were really going to have to focus on efficiency and cost,” he said.
“In preparation for some change, we have not been filling open positions since March,” FCB officials said in a news release. “This consolidation, coupled with some additional Project Thrive announcements we will be making in the near future, allows us to provide other options for many of our employees at the offices that will be consolidating.”
In its report on quarterly earnings last week, FCB described Project Thrive as a profitability initiative aimed at growing the bank’s business, maintaining adequate capital, protecting against further net interest margin compression and reducing operating expenses.
FCB officials said customers have demonstrated a transformation in how they do their banking. They say they’ve watched transactions move progressively away from the branch and toward online and mobile. Price said a record number of customers opened deposit accounts via online or mobile applications in the second quarter of this year.
“We had nearly a thousand people,” Price said. “That is triple what we had in the first quarter, and five or six times what we had at this time a year earlier.”
He also talked about the bank’s successes, such as “mortgage lending (going) through the roof” from zero in 2013 to “this year, probably $600 million in mortgages.”
He said FCB did not originate its own mortgages until the middle of 2014.
Also, Price said, First Commonwealth is now the No. 2 Small Business Administration lender in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland markets, and “our share has gone up in every market we are in.”
Price also said the bank expects to do a significantly higher-than-normal $350 million in auto loans this year.