OceanFirst to close 9 branches in Shore and focus more on digital banking

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TOMS RIVER – OceanFirst Financial Corp. plans to close nine branches in Monmouth and Ocean counties by early next year as part of a transition to digital banking that has been accelerated by the pandemic.

The change will bring with it a new six-story corporate headquarters on Hooper Avenue that will house up to 375 employees. Many of them will provide remote customer banking services through video kiosks.

“This is our digital hub,” said Christopher Maher, chief executive officer, last week during a tour of the new office.

“The status quo is difficult to break”

OceanFirst is the largest Shore-based bank with $ 11.5 billion in assets.

The decision to consolidate the branches comes as OceanFirst continues to expand, from a bank that for a century had primarily focused on mortgage lending on the Jersey Shore to a commercial bank doing business in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC, as well.

Along the way, analysts said, OceanFirst is trying to strike the right balance between traditional and digital banking.

“Sometimes the status quo is hard to break, and the pandemic, if it has taught banks one thing, it’s that you don’t need that many branches to bank your customers,” Frank said. Schiraldi, analyst at Piper Sandler in New York.

“I would say that in terms of the community banks that I cover, (OceanFirst) is a step ahead in terms of the digital transformation that virtually all banks are facing at the same time,” he said.

MORE: OceanFirst Bank opens branch at Bell Works in Holmdel

For the strategy to work, OceanFirst will need to convince clients such as Jane Salmon, 49, of Wall, who recently learned that her Spring Lake Heights branch was going to close.

She said she preferred to deposit the checks by going to the branch, where she had a personal relationship with the cashiers. And she was worried that she would lose that by doing online banking.

Not that she plans to move to another bank, Salmon said. But now she must decide if she would take a longer trip to the nearest branch.

“Because they know my situation and how I normally do my banking, they accommodate me, especially since I am a long-time customer,” she said. “If I only do mobile banking, I’m just a former customer. “

Hire your own bankers

OceanFirst is accelerating its digital transition as part of a larger plan.

The company said it will close 20 of its 58 branches, even as it continues to open commercial banking offices in Boston and Baltimore, where analysts have said there should be enough lending opportunities. to support it.

Rather than acquiring other banks in those markets, OceanFirst does its own thing by hiring experienced bankers, Maher said.

The expansion of the company forced it to diversify its talent base. A year ago, OceanFirst appointed Dr Patricia Turner, a surgeon who lives in Washington, DC, to its board of directors, making her the first black member of the board of directors in the bank’s history. .

“You want to make sure that your bankers reflect their communities, but they also have the local knowledge to understand and be able to guide you,” Maher said. “You can’t just do the same things in one market that you do in another. It’s a recipe for disaster. You really have to adapt and understand your markets.”

MORE: OceanFirst Names First Black Member To Board Of Directors; will other banks follow?

Maher has been at the helm of OceanFirst since 2013, expanding the company through seven acquisitions and using the savings from those mergers to increase his investment in technology.

OceanFirst, which introduced its first video kiosk at a Jackson branch in 2015, now operates 40 machines and its technology department has grown from seven to 84 employees.

Video kiosks allow the company to serve more locations with longer hours. It will have counters available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Tallest building in town

Toms River has everything to gain. The new headquarters are expected to open early next year. When completed, it will be the tallest building in town. And bank workers at branches scheduled to close will be offered jobs at the digital banking hub, Maher said.

Last week’s office was a work in progress. Some videographers worked on site as construction crews continued to put the finishing touches. Other cashiers worked from home.

The scene was a nod to the ongoing pandemic that has rocked the economy, forcing workers to do their work from home and consumers to resort to technology – to talk to friends, shop for groceries, see doctor.

And do their banking.

“Every time someone comes to use it for the first time, they complain and say, ‘I don’t know,’” said Maher, standing next to a video kiosk. “But right now, they love it.”

Shore agency closures:

  • 701 Arnold Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach
  • 3100, route 88, Pointe Pleasant
  • 791 Route 9, Berkeley
  • 359 Monmouth Road, West Long Branch
  • 2401 Route 71, Spring Lake Heights
  • 4050 Asbury Avenue, Tinton Falls
  • 140 Broad Street, Red Bank
  • 845 W. Bay Ave., Barnegat
  • 34 Main Street East, freehold

Michael Diamond is an economics journalist who has written about the New Jersey economy and the health care industry for over 20 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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