Bank Branches: Services That Online Banks Can't Provide

Young couple shaking hands with a banker
Photo: seb_ra / Getty Images

Online banks have changed the way we bank for the better. Online customers can earn more money, pay less in fees, and enjoy the convenience of banking from their computer or smartphone.

If you don’t have an online savings account, you’re missing out, but you might not want to completely ditch your traditional bank or credit union just yet. Although they may seem old-fashioned, branches offer several valuable services that you only miss when you can’t have them.

Here are six perks of using a bank or credit union that offers physical locations.

Instant Cashier’s Checks and Money Orders

Need to make a purchase, but a card or personal check just won’t do? For some transactions, such as home purchases and certain types of deposits, you need “cleared” funds. That usually means you need to bring a cashier’s check, wire money to an account, or provide a money order.

Online banks can provide cashier’s checks, but you won't be able to get one on the same day you request it. Instead, you typically place an order online and then wait a few days for the check to arrive by mail. You can pay extra to get the check delivered overnight, but for same-day service, you'll have to go into a bank branch.

Waiting for a check by mail isn't always feasible. You might not even know exactly how much the check should be worth until a day or two before you need it. It’s nice to have the flexibility to change things without tying up your funds. Ordering multiple cashier’s checks and trying to cancel an unused cashier’s check via mail requires account holders to have enough cash to cover all the checks—even the ones you're trying to cancel.

If you’re on the hunt for that perfect apartment or making last-minute negotiations on a home purchase, instant access is a must.

Cash Withdrawals and Deposits

It's rare these days to need a significant amount of cash, but when you do, it’s nice to have the option to withdraw what you need. For example, you might want to buy a used car on short notice.

Getting a significant amount from an average ATM is difficult. There are ways to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from online bank accounts, but you may need to visit a partner bank or credit union that’s willing to accommodate your request on behalf of the online bank.

With an account at a brick-and-mortar bank or credit union, getting cash is as easy as filling out a withdrawal slip at the branch. You can also deposit extra cash into your account quickly and easily. Keeping cash is unsafe, and some find that it's tempting to spend any extra cash in their pocket. A physical bank branch makes it easy to put that cash safely into your account.

Safe Deposit Boxes

Got small valuables and no good place to keep them? Concerned about what would happen to your files if your house catches fire? Don't think you'll need original copies of your birth certificate and Social Security card any time soon?

A bank's safe deposit box gives customers a place to store important documents and small valuables. Banks store your items at a meager cost, and you can access them any time the bank is open. Unless you plan on turning a portion of your home into an ultra-secure, fireproof, water-resistant, and theft-resistant safe, the safe deposit box at your bank's local branch is probably the safest (and easiest) way to store your valuables.


A drawback of safe deposit boxes is that you might need something when the bank branch is closed. To avoid this issue, be mindful of storing anything that you might need on short notice. Passports and medical care directives, for example, might be better stored at home.

Notary Services

Some agreements need to be notarized. That means a notary public must verify your identity and watch you sign the document to ensure you did so willingly.

By definition, an online bank can’t offer this in-person service, but many traditional banks and credit unions can. They'll probably even do it for free—as long as you only need one or two signatures.

As with many services at brick-and-mortar branches, getting a document notarized isn’t something you need every day. But when you do need it, you'll really need it. The types of paperwork that require a notary public don't usually have any wiggle room with their requirements. If you can't find a notary public, you can't submit the documents. Banks aren't the only places to get documents notarized, but they're a convenient place to do it.

A Place for Your Coins

What are you supposed to do with all of those coins that end up in your coin jar? Coins are money, so it’s worth converting them into a form that’s easy to use—whether you plan on spending the money or adding it to savings.

Shipping coins to an online-only bank isn’t feasible (if it's even allowed in the first place). You could pay to have it counted at a machine in the grocery store, but plenty of banks and credit unions still accept coins without taking a cut of the deposit. Many will let you simply drop off a jar of mixed coins and let the bank handle the sorting and counting.

Face-to-Face Meetings

In our virtual world, there are times when it’s nice to sit down with somebody in person. This can be especially true when it comes to financial issues, which are often complicated, sensitive, or both.

Internet banks offer customer service through phone calls, emails, or other forms of online communication, but the hold times can be frustrating. After you've connected with a representative, answers might not be as clear you had hoped, and it isn't as easy to follow up with questions. Typing out questions and answers has its place, but it’s not always the best solution. Sometimes it's worth the trip to the bank so you can look someone in the eyes, see any documents they reference first-hand and benefit from body language.

The Future of Bank Branches

Branches aren’t dead, but they are evolving. Historically, banks established branches to gather customers, but things have changed. In a digital world, customers don’t need to visit branches to open accounts or make deposits. As customers' needs shift, so too does the function of bank branches.

Some of the new focuses you may notice at your bank's branch could include:

  • Targeted branches: Businesses always choose locations carefully, and banks are taking that to a new level in the era of online banking. When a bank opens a branch these days, it does so with a specific purpose in mind.
  • More technology: Branches may also have fewer people working inside. With ATMs that accept deposits and machines that let customers talk to a remote teller via video chat, banks may reduce staff while keeping a branch open.
  • Premium services: Traditionally, customers would visit a branch to open basic accounts like checking and savings accounts. That’s still an option, but most customers have no problem completing these kinds of routine tasks online. Branches may instead become the place to solve more complicated problems or receive premium services, such as wealth management and small business banking.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles