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RURAL BANK STRUGGLES WITH ONGOING TROUBLES

The parent of Wyoming County Bank says it has been doing everything it can to address a range of faults with its lending and oversight, but the company's two top executives said Wednesday they have no plans to step down after new reports showed continuing problems.

"While we are disappointed with our situation, we are working very diligently to resolve the issues," said Peter G. Humphrey, chairman, president and chief executive of Warsaw, N.Y.-based Financial Institutions.

"Clearly we would have liked to have made more progress than we have to date, but our commitment is as great as it's ever been to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. It takes time to really impact the entire organization."

Financial Institutions has been struggling for more than two years with a surge in bad business loans at two subsidiaries, National Bank of Geneva and Bath National Bank. The Comptroller's Office, or OCC, cracked down with a formal agreement in September 2003, imposing strict supervision, ordering the company to raise capital, and requiring that it strengthen management and oversight.

On Tuesday, the company said a new OCC report, stemming from its December 2003 examination of the two banks, had found that some credit analysts and lenders were inexperienced and lacked oversight. It also said there were too many loan files at both banks with outdated, incomplete or inaccurate financial information, and that credit risks were too high.

Humphrey said he and Chief Financial Officer Ronald Miller have been properly performing their fiduciary duty to the company by making the board of directors aware of the new reports and weakness in financial reporting. And he said there have been no calls to resign.

Shareholders pummeled the company's stock Wednesday, sending it down more than 10 percent, or $2.69, to close at $23.56. Just a few weeks ago, the stock was at its highest point in more than a year.

Humphrey acknowledged that the company's image and market value have been hurt, but said that efforts to fix the damage will take time.

Some on Wall Street are willing to wait -- a little. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates two of the company's banks, is returning next month for fresh reviews.

"It's prudent to give them a little more time. We'll find out if they were able to remedy any of those problems," said bank analyst Jared Shaw at brokerage Keefe Bruyette & Woods in Hartford, Conn. "But at this point, I'm certainly not telling people to buy their stock."

"The tone of the final report from the OCC was a little more harsh than I was expecting," Shaw said.

A separate report by the independent firm, which looked at loans as of June 30, 2004, also found problems at Wyoming County Bank, the company's lead institution. It said a high percentage of loans were not graded properly as to their risk, and loans and records were not properly administered.

The company just received both reports, but Humphrey noted that the information was "somewhat dated" and most loans are being repaid on time.

"While we are clearly disappointed in the results, we think that there are no major surprises with the overall quality of the portfolio," Humphrey said.

The bank has also beefed up its supervision and control, adding members to the boards at Geneva and Bath, creating a chief risk officer and a chief of community banking, and centralizing loan operations.

"A lot of good effort and progress have been made since those reports were completed," Humphrey said. "We'll continue to make good progress until this is fully cleaned up."

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com