The war among California’s big banks for consumer business heated up Thursday when Security Pacific National Bank said it will extend its hours to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays at its 552 branches around the state.
The move by the state’s second-largest bank follows Wells Fargo’s decision last month to keep all of its branches open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weeknight. It creates pressure on other banks, particularly Bank of America and First Interstate, to consider the expensive step of extending their hours.
The tradition of bank offices being open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the so-called banker’s hours, has been vanishing across the country in recent years as banks compete for customers by offering more convenient hours.
But the battle is hotter in California than elsewhere, in part because of the huge branch networks operated by the four big banks and because interest rates on consumer deposits and loans tend to be relatively uniform here.
“Banks have chosen in California to compete on image and convenience,” said Frank J. Diekmann, editor of Bank Advertising News, which monitors industry marketing and advertising trends.
For customers, the results are longer branch hours, more automated teller machines and such innovations as 24-hour telephone service to answer questions about the status of their personal checking accounts.
“The fact is that banker’s hours really don’t make a whole lot of sense in today’s world,” said Jack Kopec, head of consumer services for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the state’s third-largest bank.
Particularly in a world of two-income families, people have difficulty using branches during traditional hours. Many California banks have responded by extending hours at selective branches for the past two years.
For instance, a Bank of America branch in Hercules in Contra Costa County is open from noon to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and some banks open some branches on Saturdays.
Wells Fargo touched off the latest escalation in the battle last month with the announcement that all 455 of its branches would be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“Wells Fargo’s across-the-board approach represented a real departure,” said Larry Boggs, spokesman for Union Bank, the state’s fifth-largest bank. Union’s 167 branches generally are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Boggs said the bank is considering extended hours.
Beginning Monday, Los Angeles-based Security Pacific National Bank will keep all of its branches open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. The 9-to-4 schedule adopted in 1987 remains in effect Tuesdays through Thursdays.
“Our customers have indicated that they would like us to be available later on Monday and Friday,” said Jerry A. Grundhofer, head of the bank’s consumer division.
Harvey M. Radin, a spokesman for Bank of America, said the state’s largest bank is not considering a blanket extension of hours. He said decisions on hours will continue to be made by local managers of its 851 branches, based on community needs.
Some of First Interstate Bank’s 318 branches have extended hours. Ken Preston, a First Interstate spokesman, said there are no plans for a broad change in the normal hours of 10 to 4. But he said California’s fourth-largest bank will “monitor the competition and our customers.”
In January, 1988, Wells Fargo introduced its innovative 24-hour telephone service for checking account customers. Bank of America and Security Pacific followed with their own versions of the 24-hour service.
An executive at one big bank, who asked that his name not be used, Thursday bemoaned the latest move to longer hours, fearing that something akin to a gas station war will break out.
“Our marketing studies don’t show a real need for these hours, and they are going to drive up costs,” the executive said.