Wells Fargo's plan to prune its branch network by the hundreds includes the closing of its flagship location in downtown Charleston, reflecting the growing use of online and mobile banking technology.
The office at Meeting and Market streets, a prominent corner in the city's tourist and commercial district, will close Oct. 10, said Jim Lawrence, regional president for eastern South Carolina. It will leave Wells Fargo with one downtown office, on lower Broad Street.
Customers were recently notified about the decision, which Lawrence said was driven by "changes in customer behavior in the downtown Charleston area."
The banking giant also is shuttering its tiny "Port City" branch on East Montague Avenue in North Charleston on Oct. 10. Another location in Aiken will go dark on Sept. 26.
Customer accounts will be moved to nearby branches. Lawrence said the bank is working with affected employees about transfers and other job options.
"We're committed to helping our team members find opportunities within Wells Fargo and within the community," he said.
Wells Fargo is the largest bank operating in South Carolina based on its nearly 150 branches and more than $17 billion in deposits, according to the most recent federal data.
The San Francisco-based lender operates about as many brick-and-mortar offices in the Palmetto State as it did a decade ago. By contrast, rival Bank of America has aggressively reduced its branch count by one-third to 80 South Carolina locations since 2009, either through closures or sales.
Wells Fargo announced last year that it would shed 400 of its 6,000 retail offices by the end of 2018 under a $2 billion cost-cutting plan. It has said the move was not related to the fake-accounts scandal that has embroiled the company for nearly two years.
With fewer walk-in branches, Wells Fargo is beefing up its technology offerings, which Lawrence said have been expanded to include biometric-based authentication and card-free ATMs.
"Customers are saying to us that they want to do business in a different way," he said Monday. "We're trying to respond appropriately in giving them the tools and resources they want."
The bank's downtown branch at 177 Meeting St. is notable for reasons other than its high-profile location. It marks the history of Wells Fargo and its predecessors in Charleston.
The corner space has served as a bank branch since the early 1990s, when First Union began taking deposits and making loans at Meeting and Market. The name on the building was changed later to Wachovia, which merged with First Union in 2001.
Wells Fargo came along about a decade ago. In 2008, it acquired the ailing Wachovia franchise, which had sustained massive losses during the last financial crisis.
Wells Fargo isn't abandoning 177 Meeting entirely. Its local wealth management group and other financial services businesses lease much of the space on the upper floors. Those offices won't be affected by the closing downstairs, Lawrence said.
Also, Wells Fargo is making sure a rival bank won't be moving into the ground-floor space. It will be "repurposing" the branch it's vacating for other corporate uses, Lawrence said.