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Wells Fargo opens loan office in area for firms

Wells Fargo & Co., the nation's fifth-largest bank, has opened a commercial lending office in Amherst in the latest effort by an out-of-region bank to break into the local business banking market.

Wells' new regional commercial banking office will serve the financial needs of so-called "middle-market companies" -- those with at least $10 million in annual revenues.

Besides making loans to businesses to finance various needs, the bank will also offer local businesses 85 products, including its treasury management, investment management, online banking and "remote deposit" services.

It will not do small business lending, which is handled out of a different office elsewhere.

The office, located at 6400 Sheridan Drive in Amherst, will be led by Michael P. Kubala, a banking veteran who formerly directed middle-market banking locally for Charter One Financial of Cleveland. He will be joined by vice president and senior lender Tom Grys, former manager of the Citigroup Private Bank in Buffalo. They will be responsible for calling on companies to solicit their business.

"There is tough competition locally, but we feel there is certainly room for Wells Fargo to make an immediate impact," said Kubala, who will be vice president and regional manager. "The relationships that Tom and I have established over the years will allow us to be successful in a relatively short period of time. We're here for the long haul."

Kubala said Wells' business is "built around" its middle-market commercial bank, which contributes about 25 percent of overall company profits. He said Wells is the No. 1 middle-market lender in any market in which it has been doing such business for at least 10 years. And he noted it's already working with some large and well-known companies based in Western New York.

Wells Fargo's entry into Buffalo is the second in recent months by a bank based outside the region with no branches in Western New York. Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati also opened a loan production office on Essjay Road in Amherst last year. And J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the nation's No. 3 lender, still offers middle-market lending in the Buffalo area despite having sold its retail branch network here years ago.

Still, the newcomer doesn't sway the region's top lenders.

"Over the years, we see competitors come and go from the Western New York market while we remain committed to serving our many customers," said C. Michael Zabel, spokesman for M&T Bank Corp., which dominates the local market along with HSBC Bank USA.

"We think the level of service that we've been able to provide consistently is one of the key reasons why we are one of the top lenders to local businesses."

The new location marks the 82nd commercial banking office that Wells Fargo has set up coast to coast. Wells Fargo, which runs 3,097 bank branches and 6,200 automated teller machines in 23 states, operates primarily in the Midwest and West in its retail banking.

But it maintains nationwide businesses in home mortgage lending, home equity and consumer lending, commercial banking, and corporate and investment banking. Including all businesses, it serves 23 million customers with more than 6,200 offices.

It's the nation's No. 2 mortgage lender behind Countrywide Financial, the No. 1 home equity lender, and one of the leading small business, student and home renovation lenders. And it owns the No. 5 insurance agency under the name Acordia. It maintains one of the largest online bill-payment systems in the country, and is well-known for its high penetration of selling banking products to its customers.

In New York state, Wells employs 1,430 in offices in 47 cities. Its businesses statewide include Acordia, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Wells Fargo Century, Wells Fargo Equipment Finance, Wells Fargo Securities and Wells Fargo Financial. But its presence here in Western New York has mostly been limited to mortgage and home equity lending until now, although it's been in this market for more than 10 years.

However, its historic roots have a link to Buffalo. The bank was co-founded as an express company in July 1852 by William Fargo, a former mayor of Buffalo. The company gained a contract on the Erie Railroad and first offered service in Buffalo in 1888, becoming the first express firm to offer "ocean-to-ocean" service.

"Wells Fargo's early days as an express company in the mid-19th century tie us to Buffalo, so it is exciting to hang out our shingle once more after a century and a half," Kubala said in the press release.


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