Bank of America closing branches in Lakeport, Ukiah

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Bank of America is closing its Lakeport and Ukiah branches, a blow to rural residents who have seen an exodus of big bank retail locations from their neighborhoods stemming in good part from consumers’ move to online banking.

Both branches will close Nov. 11, spokeswoman Collen Haggerty said.

“We constantly adapt our financial center network to fit clients’ changing needs and habits, and this decision is driven primarily by less foot traffic inside centers as customer banking behaviors gravitate to using more online and mobile banking,” Haggerty said in an email statement.

The closures will force Bank of America customers in both Lake and Mendocino counties to drive to Healdsburg or St. Helena as their closest branch. Bank of America closed its Fort Bragg location in 2014.

Lake County residents in particular have a dearth of retail bank locations. For example, Upper Lake residents have had no bank branches available since Westamerica Bank left the town in 2015.

Both counties have a larger population that is “unbanked,” meaning no family member had a checking or savings account, and “underbanked,” where customers have an account but also have used services from an alternative provider, such as a payday loan provider or a check casher, according to statistics from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Mendocino County was at 8.4 percent unbanked and 17 percent underbanked, while Lake County was at 8.7 percent and 17.4 percent respectively, according to the FDIC.

The closings come as at least one local institution, Community First Credit Union of Santa Rosa, is exploring avenues to increase its retail locations, which are popular with older customers as well as minority communities. Those locations also can process services, such as cashier checks to instantly issued debit cards, much quicker for their customers.

The credit union, which just completed its merger with Mendo Lake Credit Union on July 1, has 10 area branches and will be examining whether to expand to Willits and Petaluma, said Community First CEO Todd Sheffield. His institution is a nonprofit cooperative with 50,777 members.

“It certainly shows a different commitment and a different emphasis on profit. Maintaining a retail branch is expensive. We can look at other things besides profit,” Sheffield said.

Community First opened new branch locations in Napa in 2014 and Fulton in 2015. At the time of those openings, Sheffield noted, Chase Bank closed their branches within the same shopping center.

The credit union plans to hire 10 additional employees, mostly in its mortgage lending unit. Sheffield said having retail locations makes it more convenient for customers to apply for such home loans.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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