Transformed new downtown Lafayette library opens after four years of renovations _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- The Iberia Bank tower is seen through a window near a seating area on the second floor during the Grand Re-opening of the Lafayette Public Library main branch Monday, July 6, 2015, in downtown Lafayette, La.

Lafayette-based IberiaBank Corp., the largest financial institution headquartered in Louisiana, is closing or consolidating 22 branch locations this year. 

The branches will close or consolidate during the second and third quarters of 2018, and are part of the bank's "long-term strategy" to improve efficiency, especially as it moves toward digital banking. The closures will leave the bank with 296 locations across the Southeast. 

Seven of the 22 closures are in Louisiana, including one in Baton Rouge, on Sherwood Forest Boulevard, and one in the Slidell area at Village Northshore. Another seven of the locations are in Arkansas; six in Florida; and one each in Tennessee and Texas.

Iberia will have six remaining locations in Baton Rouge, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The bank also has 12 locations in New Orleans and 10 in Lafayette, including its headquarters. 

The closures are on top of branch consolidations already planned in the wake of Iberia's acquisition of Florida's Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust in a $223 million deal that closed earlier this year. Iberia reportedly laid off 124 Gibraltar employees in March ahead of the completion of the acquisition. The one remaining former Gibraltar location will consolidate with another location in Miami, said Iberia spokeswoman Beth Ardoin. 

The new closures are intended to "optimize our branch and ATM network" as part of an ongoing effort to become more efficient, said Daryl Byrd, president and CEO of IberiaBank.

"As our clients increasingly use and become more reliant on our digital channels, we continuously review our distribution channels to ensure we are operating efficiently," he said in a statement. 

As customer habits continue shifting toward online banking, financial institutions in Louisiana have cut positions and downsized their physical presences in recent years. Earlier this year, Capitol One Bank said it would close branch locations in Baton Rouge and the New Orleans area, citing an eye toward efficiency amid changing customer preferences. 

Iberia expects the closures will improve operating expenses by more than $8 million on a pre-tax basis once the branches are sold or closed. The bank also anticipates an additional $2 million reduction in non-interest expense in the fourth quarter of this year. The move will cost $12 million in non-core charges, but will be earned back through non-interest expense reductions within a two-year period. 

In the first quarter of this year, Iberia posted net income of $60 million, or $1.10 per share, compared to $46.9 million, or $1 per share, a year earlier. The firm said the earnings were in line with internal expectations. Iberia has $29.5 billion in total assets as of March, making it the largest bank headquartered in Louisiana by a wide margin. 

Iberia also recently announced it will buy back about 2 percent of its total shares, the bank's largest share repurchase program to date.  

Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.