Over the Labor Day weekend, 57 National City bank branches across western Pennsylvania were converted to First Niagara Financial, making them the third largest in the Pittsburgh region. This conversion marks the initial entrance of First Niagara, which first emerged in Albany, N.Y., into the local market with 37 branches appearing in Allegheny County alone.

GIVING BACK— John Koelmel gives backpacks to students from Point Park University Children’s School.

“First Niagara has grown significantly over the past 10 years and Pittsburgh would be one of the largest markets for them,” said Regional President Todd Moules. “It’s an attractive market for them in terms of the economy still being relatively sound.”

On Sept. 8 the 57 converted branches opened for business. Customers were able to use their new checks and debit cards on Sept. 5. ATM banking was available at many locations on Saturday and online banking was also made available over the weekend.

This deal comes as a result of the purchase of National City by PNC bank. This deal gave PNC a high market share in Pittsburgh and forced them to sell a portion of the branches to First Niagara by the U.S. Department of Justice.

PNC retained 110 National City branches that will be converted in November.

Moules, who previously led National City’s Pittsburgh operations, is one of the many National City employees being carried over to First Niagara.

“The employees come with National City and the clients come with National City,” Moules said. “That’s one of the reasons First Niagara was attracted to National City was because of their employees.”

Moules said mor than 1,000 applicants have applied for positions with First Niagara as mortgage bankers, licensed brokers, commercial bankers, credit administrators and key administration staff. Although some new jobs were created through the conversion, all of National City’s prior employees will remain with First Niagara.

“We’ve already retained all 500 employees. On top of that we hired an additional 80 to 90 people and we look forward to adding to that base,” First Niagara’s President John Koelmel said. “We’re really pleased to have a positive job impact in these tough economic times.”

Koelmel said the conversion went relatively smoothly, with thousands of transactions already being completed by customers over the weekend. Over the past five months since the deal was announced, he said First Niagara has seen few of its customers transfer to another bank.

“With a couple thousand customers there’s always a hiccup or two,” Koelmel said. “But from the big picture, we couldn’t be more pleased.”

This is First Niagara’s eighth bank deal and they have plans to acquire a bank in Philadelphia in the coming year. Koelmel said they also hope to buy any other branches PNC might plan to close in the future.

“It’s a strategic fit, strategic extension for us,” Koelmel said. “I really think it’s the best of both worlds where you have the power and strength of a larger organization with a smaller and more local community bank execution.”

(Remaining job openings with First Niagara are posted at http://www.fnfg.com. For questions about your account, call 1-800-421-0004.)

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