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Law Center shares bank merger concerns with KeyCorp leaders

The Western New York Law Center worries that KeyCorp’s acquisition of First Niagara Financial Group would slash jobs and hurt banking services in markets already underserved in the region.

The center shared those concerns directly with top KeyCorp leadership at a meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.

Representatives of the Law Center and members of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition sat down Wednesday with KeyCorp CEO Beth E. Mooney and other bank officials, said Thomas Keily, the Law Center’s consumer education and data coordinator.

The community groups, including Voice Buffalo and PUSH Buffalo, are speaking up as KeyCorp pursues a $4.1 billion deal for First Niagara. The combination is expected to trigger job cuts, as Key aims to reduce overlap and trim expenses.

The community groups raised four areas of concern: job losses, the loss of bank branches and services in underserved communities, the further loss of lending in underserved markets, and continued limited banking access for non-English speaking communities.

Keily called the meeting productive. “They took the time to sit down with us, which is a step in the right direction, the way I see it.”

Therese Myers, a KeyCorp spokeswoman, said it was too soon to respond to the issues raised by the groups. “We are in the process of meeting with local groups on the Key-First Niagara agreement; it is important that we give those groups the opportunity to weigh in.”.

Keily said some of the issues the groups identified, such as inadequate banking services for low- to moderate-income and minority communities, are already problems, but could be perpetuated by the deal.

“If there were to be (branch) closings, that would have a drastic impact on people already underserved in that community,” he said.

The community groups asked KeyCorp to prepare a response to its concerns, and they expect to schedule another meeting with Key officials in Buffalo. The Law Center also plans to submit comments about the deal to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, as part of a public comment process open to anyone through the end of the month.

Separately, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has called for federal regulators to block the merger as currently designed, saying it would harm bank competition in upstate New York. He has also raised concerns about the job losses the deal could trigger.