Last week, Doug Smith drove up to the parking lot of his local U.S. Bank branch at 4947 Third St. in the Bayview neighborhood to get some cash.
What he found instead was a small laminated sign that said the bank was closed and gave the addresses of the closest open branches in the Mission District and the Excelsior. As he pulled to the front, the ATMs near the main entrance were boarded up and the doors were locked.
“I have to go all the way across town to visit my bank,” Smith said in front of the Wells Fargo in Bayview Plaza. “This is the only option I have within a mile.”
Smith, who has lived in the Bayview his entire life, ruefully noted the $3 transaction fee that Wells Fargo charged just to access his money.
Smith said the increasing availability of mobile and online banking—an option often cited by banks downsizing their physical locations—just isn’t a good match for him. Doing business in person “limits the margin for error,” he said.
The Wells Fargo branch at 3801 Third St. is the last financial institution left on the Bayview’s main commercial corridor after the closure of the U.S. Bank earlier this month. The next closest bank branch is the Bank of the West at 2675 San Bruno Ave. located on the other side of Highway 101 in the Portola neighborhood.
Rumors have flown about the impending closure of the Wells Fargo branch, but a company representative denied those claims.
“This location is critical for us, and we’re not leaving the community,” said Wells Fargo spokesperson Edith Robles.
A staffer for District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said the office has not heard any news about Wells Fargo’s closure “for the time being.”
Just a few doors down from the Wells Fargo branch sits the shuttered remnants of Union Bank, with teller stalls still visible through cracks in the boarded-up windows. That location closed in May, a result of what the bank called consolidation after the company’s acquisition by U.S. Bank.
Cheryl Thornton, a longtime Bayview resident, said Union Bank customers like herself were directed to the U.S. Bank branch, only to see that location close a short time later.
“It’s just kind of concerning because there’s not many places where if you need to get cash, you can,” Thornton said. “You’re really locking out people who are the poorest.”
She pointed to Social Security recipients and elderly residents who rely on financial institutions to pay their rent and conduct their daily business without relying on potentially predatory institutions like payday loan providers.
“I understand that a lot of banks are going online, but if you go to the other districts, they’re not closing at the same rate as they are in the Bayview,” Thornton said. “I think, once again, it’s a structural, systemic racism problem. You attack the people who are the most vulnerable first.”
Jean Steadman is a 30-year resident of the Bayview and a recent customer of Wells Fargo. She joined the bank about a year ago and admitted she wouldn’t have opened an account if there were more options around.
For a long time, she was a customer of the Bank of America that used to have a branch at 5000 Third St., but after that location closed in 2019, she wasn’t left with many choices.
“The other day [the Wells Fargo ATMs] actually had signs up saying ‘cash unavailable,’” Steadman said of her current bank. “Whoever heard of an ATM that doesn’t have cash available?”
Lorenzo Beasley has been a Wells Fargo customer for the last decade and has lived in the Bayview for more than half a century. He has called the string of bank closures a “drastic change.”
“You just see them here one day, and the next day, they’re gone,” Beasley said. He put the banks’ closures into a larger context of disinvestment and pointed across the street to Sam Jordan’s, a Black-owned bar and grill that served the neighborhood for 60 years before closing in 2019, as an example.
Beasley echoed a general consensus among Bayview residents that they often have to leave the community to get the basic goods and services they need.
“I want to see more banks opening in the area, more financial institutions, more literacy programs, more libraries, more parks,” Beasley said. “We are what we eat; if we don't treat our community or consumers or business people right, that’s another reason why they go elsewhere.”
After the interview, Beasley stepped up to the ATM before flashing a look at the screen and seeing an “out of service” display.
“I guess that’s why everyone was waiting for this other one,” he said with a shake of his head.