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HSBC customers express concern, relief

Since HSBC Bank USA announced in mid-June plans to sell many of its upstate New York and Connecticut branches, its account holders have been left wondering what will happen to their savings and loans.

Sunday's announcement that Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group would buy from HSBC 189 upstate New York branches and six Connecticut branches reassured some account holders and raised additional questions from others.

"I love the bank [HSBC], they have great customer service," said Jason Bridge, who has had an HSBC account for six years. "I've never worked with First Niagara, so I'm a little nervous."

Bridge, from Buffalo, said he was glad to hear that most of the 1,900 HSBC branch employees are expected to keep their jobs after the sale closes.

Jan Giglia also said her main concern was for the people who work at her local branch, not for her account.

"It makes me a little nervous, because I really love everyone who's working [there]," she said.

Fellow HSBC customer Franklin Bucella also said he was glad some of the jobs would be retained.

"One thing is for sure, we're going to lose jobs in this type of consolidation but it's better than just [HSBC] fleeing," the Buffalo resident said. "I'm very glad that [First Niagara] is taking up the slack here, because I was very disappointed when HSBC decided to pull out."

For some account holders, this disappointment means they will move their money to another institution.

"I'm very upset about it, because no letters or anything were sent out," said Jasmin Rodriguez. "I'm mad about the lack of communication with their very own customers."

Rodriguez, who has had an HSBC account for 25 years, said she thought customers should have been notified of the impending sale, rather than learning about it through the media. She is beginning the search for a new bank.

Ben Hilligas said the change of bank ownership would likely prompt him to move his accounts to a local credit union.

"I'm probably going to go with a credit union that I qualify for at my work," the Buffalo resident and three-year HSBC account holder said. "The credit union has advantages and benefits anyway."

Hilligas had been thinking of switching to the credit union for a while, he said, but the sale will speed his decision.

Though some customers may be moving their money, many also are sticking with the bank; they are glad a local company will keep jobs here and, hopefully, keep some of their favorite branches open.

"I enjoy HSBC. I enjoy this branch, and I'm pleased to see that, if it's leaving us, First Niagara is taking it," said John Spadafora of Buffalo. ."

Spadafora, an HSBC account holder for more than 20 years, said he thinks the acquisition by a bank people are familiar with is better than a foreign or out-of-state entrant, even if it leaves the fate of some of the branches in limbo.

Even amid the uncertainty, account holders, like Hilligas, are optimistic.

"I'm very glad that a local company is taking over and most of the jobs will be safe," he said.

e-mail: mtighe@buffnews.com