New Ellenton’s only bank is closing.
The First Citizens Bank branch in the town of about 2,000 people is scheduled to shut its doors Sept. 20. The bank at 500 Main St. North opened in 1985.
Barbara Thompson, First Citizens’ director of brand management, marketing and corporate communications, said the closing was “a business decision.
“We’re continually evaluating our network and take a lot of things into consideration,” including such factors as customer traffic and proximity to other branches, she said.
Another major factor, she said, is the changing way that customers bank. More people in recent years have been using automatic teller machines, computers or mobile devices to transact their business.
“There are many different ways customers today are using banks,” Thompson said.
The financial research company Javelin reported that in 2015, for the first time ever, more people performed their banking by computer or smartphone than by visiting a brick-and-mortar bank.
Forbes magazine reported last July that as many as half of all U.S. bank branches could close over the next decade, according to the financial services research firm Keefe, Bruyette and Woods.
According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which advocates access to basic banking services, 1,067 bank branch closures between 2008 and 2016 occurred in rural areas such as New Ellenton.
There are three First Citizens branches within 15 miles of New Ellenton – two in Aiken and one in Beech Island. While the bank’s customers can bank at any First Citizens branch, Thompson said, a letter sent to customers June 16 about the closure referred them to the bank’s Center South branch on Silver Bluff Road in Aiken.
Olivia Bland lives only about two miles away from the bank, and doesn’t want to see it go. She said while she can change her account and bank elsewhere, many people in New Ellenton – particularly seniors – would find that change difficult if not impossible to make.
“They need somewhere to do their banking in the morning, at lunch and in the afternoon,” Bland said. “If we don’t have a facility here, our little businesses are going to die, too.”
The branch’s older customers prefer the convenience of a nearby bank instead of having to travel several miles up the road to “get caught up in all the confusion in Aiken,” Bland said.
For example, she said, New Ellenton residents visiting the Center South branch of First Citizens likely would have to use Dougherty Road to get there. That road has been peppered with ongoing construction work that would bother older drivers.
Bland also said the branch is convenient for employees traveling to and from Savannah River Site, which is just a mile or so away.
Bland said she has been circulating petitions against the closure “in most of the little businesses I’ve been able to get to in the new Ellenton area.”
That tactic has worked before. In 2004 First Citizens tried to close its Beech Island branch. But a groundswell of protest by area businesses and residents, with the help of then-state Rep. Roland Smith of Warrenville, prompted bank officials to reconsider.
Bland also is planning a rally at the New Ellenton bank.
“It’s a wonderful little town,” she said. “We can’t let it die.”
The three employees who work at the New Ellenton branch are eligible to post for other positions at other First Citizens branches, Thompson said.
Since sending out the letter about the closure, First Citizens has been “starting to get some calls” from customers, “but mainly inquiring about where some of the other offices may be,” Thompson said.
First Citizens has 145 branches in South Carolina.
Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543