M&T Bank Corp. executives played up the bank’s local ties as they threw a party Tuesday celebrating M&T’s 160th anniversary.
“It’s true that M&T Bank has grown a great deal in recent years,” said Robert G. Wilmers, M&T’s chairman and CEO, in front of the downtown headquarters. “But wherever we go, Buffalo will always be our home. It has been for 160 years and will be long into the future.”
M&T honored its hometown roots as the region’s banking market shifts. Cleveland-based KeyCorp has acquired First Niagara Financial Group, absorbing a homegrown bank that, in recent years, was based in Larkinville.
M&T employees and members of the public gathered on the sunsplashed plaza to watch the band Party of Nine, eat free cake, and listen to remarks from bank and elected leaders during a break in the music.
The tributes flowed. Mayor Byron Brown declared Tuesday M&T Bank Day in the city. He said City Hall’s dome would be bathed in green light Tuesday night, in honor of the bank’s signature color. County Executive Mark Poloncarz also declared it M&T Bank Day countywide.
“M&T Bank is so much a part of all the progress that we’re seeing in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said.
Poloncarz called it exceptional for a business to endure as long as M&T.
“To have a company like M&T reach its 160th birthday and still be in the hometown that it was created in, is almost unheard of,” he said.
The bank began modestly. The institution, originally known as Manufacturers and Traders Bank, opened for business on Aug. 29, 1856, inside leased space at 2 East Swan St. in Buffalo. Franklin Pierce was president. The United States consisted of 31 states. The outbreak of the Civil War was still five years away. The bank’s mission was to support the growth of what was then the world’s largest grain port.
Today, M&T consists of 800 branches in multiple states, employs 17,000 people, and has more than $123 billion in assets, ranking among the top 20 U.S.-based commercial banks. M&T has expanded far beyond its Buffalo hometown, most recently bulking up its presence in New Jersey by acquiring Hudson City Bancorp.
Poloncarz said he hears praise for M&T from county executives whom he speaks to in other regions where the bank has a presence.
“They look at M&T, and others look at M&T, as the conscience of the banking community, of what people hope the banking industry should be,” he said. “And that says a tremendous amount about the people behind M&T, from the top to the individuals who are the tellers.”
Wilmers described M&T’s staying power in simple terms.
“We just do our job day to day,” he said. “It seems to work. We’ve got good teamwork. I’m proud of our team.”
M&T president Mark Czarnecki said the bank’s 7,000 employees in Western New York “are very committed to what we do, and we build on them. So it’s our Buffalo work force that is what we build on wherever we go, market to market.”
M&T’s employment in the region has soared from 2,096 in 1983. But Poloncarz said M&T’s local impact goes beyond its employment and investment, in areas like philanthropy.
“Look at the organizations that they support,” he said. “I know just from the arts and cultural communities in this town, M&T is generally the largest corporate donor.”
“They understand that they have a responsibility to be not only a good banker to this community, but to be a great partner to ensure this community continues to grow,” Poloncarz said.
Wilmers became M&T’s chairman and CEO in 1983, and he poked fun at his lengthy tenure.
“I know some of you might think I remember the day back when the bank was founded,” he told the plaza crowd. “I haven’t been here quite that long, but it’s close.”