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KeyBank showcases Buffalo with shareholders in town

Buffalo is KeyBank's second-biggest market, and the city made an impression on its top leaders this week.

KeyBank brought its annual shareholders meeting here on Thursday, the first time since 2006 the bank has held the gathering outside its home base of Cleveland.

"The message was hopefully, unmistakably, how important Buffalo and Western New York are to Key and the future of Key," said Beth Mooney, Key's CEO. Key completed its $4 billion deal for First Niagara Bank last year, propelling Key into the No. 2 spot locally behind M&T Bank.

Key has taken a number of steps to increase its presence in Buffalo, from designating Larkinville as its Northeast regional headquarters, to putting its name on the downtown arena, to rolling out a community benefits plan consisting of loans and investments.

But Thursday's visit was the first to Buffalo for some Key directors.

The bank held its annual shareholders meeting at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and hosted a client reception there on Wednesday night. Key also had an event at the Buffalo Club, and bank officials stayed at the Mansion on Delaware Avenue.

Top Key officials came to town for the annual meeting, as well as nearly all of the bank's board of directors. For two directors, it was a short trip: Gary Crosby, the former First Niagara Bank CEO, and William Gisel Jr., CEO of Rich Products, both live in North Buffalo.

"Every director I met commented how impressed they were with Buffalo," said Buford Sears, a veteran local banker who is Key's Buffalo region market president. "This was the first visit to Buffalo for many of them."

KeyBank Chairman and CEO Beth Mooney speaks at the bank's annual meeting at Albright-Knox Art Gallery on Thursday.
(John Hickey/Buffalo News)

A couple of the directors were already familiar with the Albright-Knox but were pleased to see it for themselves, said Gary Quenneville, Key's regional executive for upstate New York.

"There was a lot of buzz also around the employee base here that we were holding sessions in Buffalo, so that's created a little enthusiasm," Quenneville said.

Mooney recalled a year ago, "there was a lot of trepidation about what was going to happen, what would be the commitment of Key, what would the combined companies look like, what would it mean for Buffalo?"

While Mooney called the First Niagara deal "significant and transformational," other banks have also seized the moment. Competitors saw a prime opportunity to attract customers and business amid the upheaval. They responded with ramped-up advertising, customer incentives, and even new branches. Mooney said she wasn't surprised.

"Yes, you prepare for it," she said. "Some piece of it is how you train your people, how we work so hard bringing the teams together and bringing the customers in. Our mantra was, don't lose even one client."

Mooney said since the branch conversion last fall, Key has grown deposits in each of the former First Niagara markets. That was an unusual outcome, she said, "because you're usually up there talking about the level of deposits you lost and the reasons why, as opposed to how you've been able to grow."

Quenneville said retaining employees becomes especially important, when the bank is faced with"how do you deal with disruption, how do you retain clients when other banks are moving in."

Other points from Key officials' visit:

  • Key is still evaluating where to locate an additional East Side branch that the bank has pledged to open. "We're still a ways away" from picking a site, Quenneville said.
  • After going through a host of branch conversions, closings and sales last year, Key doesn't have plans for additional closings, Mooney said.



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