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Talk with HSBC CEO leaves Schumer optimistic on 3,000 downtown workers Strong presence seen continuing after sale

Sen. Charles E. Schumer is optimistic that HSBC Bank USA will keep the roughly 3,000 employees it has in downtown Buffalo after a conversation he had with the bank's New York-based CEO.

Schumer said Tuesday he spoke by telephone with HSBC USA President and CEO Irene Dorner, urging her to "commit to Buffalo's downtown" and calling the bank "essential to the economic health of Western New York."

New York's senior senator said he would continue pressing the bank, but he was optimistic that HSBC will maintain a strong presence in Buffalo, even after it completes its sale of its retail and small-business banking operation across the state to First Niagara Financial Group later this month.

"I'm optimistic that the company believes in its Western New York workforce and that they're going to remain a huge presence in Buffalo for years to come," said Schumer, an influential member of the Senate Banking Committee. "Nothing is set in stone, but I'm hopeful that HSBC will continue to be a dominant source of jobs."

HSBC declined to comment.

The $1 billion deal with First Niagara includes 195 branches in New York and southwestern Connecticut, with $15 billion in deposits. The sale, part of a global restructuring to cut $3.5 billion in costs, will result in $900 million in savings for HSBC, Schumer said.

However, the bank plans to continue offering commercial, corporate, private and investment banking services to business customers and wealthy clients in upstate and Western New York, as well as nationwide. And it will still offer retail and small-business banking in other parts of the country, supported by workers in Buffalo.

Still, the sale has added to trepidation locally that HSBC will continue downsizing and eventually leave Buffalo, which observers say would be devastating to both the employment base and the downtown real estate market. Schumer noted the bank has committed to a short-term presence locally, but he pressed for more.

Schumer said he discussed the future of the One HSBC Center tower, the nearby HSBC Atrium office building and the bank's HSBC Mortgage Corp. (USA) unit in Depew. HSBC has 4,000 employees in Western New York, with 3,000 downtown at the tower and atrium, and 1,000 in the mortgage operation.

Schumer said he "strongly urged" Dorner to "maintain jobs in Buffalo" and told her that if the bank decides to sell the mortgage business or any other units, it should find buyers who will keep those businesses and jobs in Buffalo.

"HSBC has been synonymous with Buffalo for years and has become a pillar of the economy in Western New York," Schumer said. "Buffalo has done well by HSBC, and HSBC has done well by Buffalo That must continue to be true."

He said he "did not get into what building they should be in," saying "that's their business." But he added, "I asked that they make sure that they continue a strong presence in downtown."

"I am feeling pretty optimistic about HSBC's strong presence in Western New York," he said. "I certainly feel very optimistic about downtown. I feel optimistic about Depew as well. Whatever happens, we need the jobs to stay in Buffalo."

Schumer stressed that no conclusive statements were made, although he said he couldn't reveal some parts of the discussion. The process has taken longer than HSBC expected, he said, adding that Dorner told him she expects "a resolution on these issues relatively soon."

"I walked away with a good feeling on both issues, but that is not a guarantee," he said.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com