Commentary: Why close the Edinburg bank branch?

By Roger Barbee

The letter from Joseph Butts, area manager for SunTrust Bank, arrived at the end of April. The salutation carried as much irony as anything I have ever read: “To Our Valued Clients,” the letter began. It quickly got worse.

The 2013 filing with the SEC for SunTrust Bank lists the following salaries for its top five executives: William Rogers, $5.78 million; Mark Chancy, $2.6 million; Thomas Freeman, $2.4 million; Aleem Gillani, $2.2 million; and Anil Cheriyan, $2.1 million.

In his letter of April 25, Butts explains that the Edinburg branch of SunTrust Bank will be closing for good at 2 p.m. Aug. 1. However, he goes on to write, “Your account will not be affected, and there will be no interruption of service. Our top priority at SunTrust Bank is to provide the most convenient services to fulfill all of your banking needs…”

He then goes on to inform that “We have a nearby branch that will provide the same services you have been accustomed to at the Edinburg branch.” That “nearby branch” Butts writes of is in New Market. Since his signature is on the letter, I must assume he wrote it, and since he is listed as the area manager for SunTrust Bank, I trust he is somewhat familiar with this area. Thus, he must think readers of his letter will believe whatever he writes. But I dispute his knowledge of geography – New Market is not “nearby” to Edinburg, making any branch there inconvenient, not convenient as Butts claims.

According to Google maps, the branch in New Market is 14 minutes via Interstate 81 from Edinburg, thus that is at best a 28-minute trip if you are brave enough to travel on I-81 and there is no truck accident blocking the lanes. Contrary to Butt’s logic, this corporate move is an interruption to service.

Now, I am sure the folks who work at the SunTrust branch in New Market are as nice as the ones in Edinburg and provide good service, but to suggest that we travel to New Market for regular service is absurd. There are too many banks, staffed with great folks, in Mount Jackson, Edinburg, or Woodstock that offer the same services much closer to home.

When I called the 800 number to express my dismay and regret for this decision, I was reminded by a young voice that online banking was quite easy and convenient. I informed the young voice that I was well aware of the advantages of banking via the Internet. However, I informed the young voice that doing business with any bank was more than making deposits, cashing checks, sending in payments, or any of the innumerable activities necessary in the modern world of commerce.

For Mary Ann and me, the SunTrust branch in Edinburg is about the people in that small building on Stoney Creek Boulevard. And that is why we had our accounts with SunTrust – the people who knew us, greeted us, and made us feel special for banking in their branch. Yes, I am sure the branch in New Market is staffed as well, but it is at least 30 minutes away, if the trip goes well.

It seems that at least one of the top five paid executives listed earlier, being intelligent enough to earn yearly salaries over $2 million each, would be savvy enough to know that ultimately all they sell is service. However, with the closing of the Edinburg branch, they kill the relationships built up over the years in that building. I have to conclude that they do not care about that aspect of doing business and will send out silly letters such as the one we received. I have to ask them and Butts — if your top priority is to provide convenient service, then why close the Edinburg branch? Do you mislead yourselves or your customers or both?

Some accounts we have with SunTrust Bank will remain because it is truly more convenient for us. However, most will move, along with the safe-deposit box. We will miss the cheerful atmosphere we have become accustomed to on Stoney Creek Boulevard, the friendly banter with other customers, and the pleasure of being recognized and known by the staff. That small pleasure, Butts, you have taken with your decision.

I suppose that in time, Mary Ann and I will become accustomed to another bank truly nearby, but not the one in New Market. That is an unfortunate fact of modern-day life. However, all those cheerful faces and wise council on Stoney Creek Boulevard will be missed and not easily replaced.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.