Central Texas remains a growing market for financial institutions despite branch closures being a nationwide trend because of mobile and Internet banking and tighter government restrictions.

According to SNL.com, 2013 experienced 1,487 bank branch closures.

However, at least four financial institutions are in the process of growing their presence throughout Central Texas with branch openings in Killeen, Harker Heights and Copperas Cove.

Navy Federal Credit Union, USAA and First Texas Bank plan to open new branches this year. A+ Federal Credit Union

plans to open its first Greater Fort Hood area branch by 2015.

“The market has been really receptive to us,” said Michele Foster, a Navy Federal Credit Union regional branch manager. “In that general area, we view (a new branch) as an opportunity to keep serving our membership and to make sure the market isn’t tapped.”

In the last two years, Navy Federal’s membership has grown from 10,600 customers to 26,229. It already is operating three locations in the area, and its first opened in 2009.

First Texas Bank growing

First Texas Bank also is expanding its operations to keep up with the growth of Central Texas, said Pat Kaufman, the bank’s president.

“We are expanding because we believe this is a great market to be in,” Kaufman said. “All of Texas is a great market to be in, but Central Texas is an outstanding market to be in.”

As part of its new building, First Texas will relocate its main offices to South W.S. Young Drive, but the facility will be a full branch. Once the bank vacates its current building, it will turn a drive-thru building into a full branch operation.

“At the same time, Killeen is growing south, so we are opening a new branch where the growth is,” Kaufman said.

A+ Federal expanding

A+ Federal also hopes to capitalize on the success of the market with a site in Harker Heights, said Dennis Loftis, the credit union’s executive vice president. There are about 900 members in a six-mile radius of the future branch site, Loftis said. The number is anticipated to grow when the institution has a physical location.

“We saw a lot of potential in that area,” Loftis said. “It will be a little slower start for us, but we are ready to make that investment, and we have already made it with buying the land.”

Before deciding to locate in the area, A+ did a third-party study of an 11-county area that showed this market was prime for the institution’s growth. “Killeen-Harker Heights was one of the top areas in their study, with additional success for us,” Loftis said.

Branches not a risky move

According to a report from SNL.com, most of the branch closures nationwide were attributed to growth in mobile and Internet banking.

“Bank customers increasingly prefer online and mobile banking, observers say, as advancing technology enables them to make remote deposits, shop for loans and manage accounts more efficiently from their desktops or smart phones,” stated the SNL report. “This has resulted in steadily less foot traffic in many branches, providing banks reason to close them.”

Kaufman also said smaller institutions have issues keeping up with new federal regulations, making it a smarter move for them to sell off their assets to larger institutions.

“Nationwide there are a lot of banks consolidating,” he said. “The reason that is happening is because federal regulations have gotten even more intensive, and that is driving a lot of smaller banks to merge with larger companies.”

But three of the four institutions cited that branch facilities are being requested by their members and customers.

Navy Federal members showed they continually want access to mobile and face-to-face interaction with the institution according to a customer poll, Foster said. That could be attributed to the institution’s customer service.

“The reason we are (expanding branches) is to really reach out to our members in that community,” she said. “We see members’ demands and needs and want to meet them.”

A+ Federal has experienced increased foot traffic for both its branches and mobile sites, Loftis said.

Branches also provide a sense of confidence to the membership, Loftis said.

“Pretty much any thing we can do on our mobile (banking) can be done in the branch, but we also find there are a number of members who go branches to purchase higher price items, to get that additional education and make sure they are on the right track,” Foster said. “And we make sure that we take time with them.”

Contact Mason W. Canales at ​mcanales@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7474

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