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Northwest Bank president eager to tap growth opportunities

Ronald J. Seiffert's arrival at Northwest Bank reflects the bank's growth, driven partly by its expanded presence in a competitive Buffalo Niagara region. And he's eager to join the fray.

The veteran banker joined Northwest last November as president and chief operating officer. Before that, William Wagner had held the roles of chairman, president and CEO. But the Warren, Pa.-based bank decided it was time to add to its executive team, given how much Northwest had grown in complexity and size, to nearly $10 billion in assets. Wagner remains chairman and CEO.

"My background includes big banks and community banks, and I know the difference in what it's like to work within both," said Seiffert, who visited the Buffalo area this week. "I was looking for an opportunity to get with a community bank that has this kind of culture."

Northwest's acquisition of 18 First Niagara branches in the Buffalo Niagara region in 2016 was a watershed moment, propelling Northwest to No. 4 in deposit market share in the region from No. 7. It's also opened a regional headquarters in Amherst with nearly 100 employees, a combination of people who were relocated from other sites in the region and new hires.

Now Seiffert is with a bank going up against three big rivals in the Buffalo Niagara region: M&T, KeyBank and Bank of America, the top three in deposit market share here, respectively.

"I like those cards," he said. "We like competing against the bigger banks."

Ronald Seiffert welcomed a chance to return to a community bank. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Seiffert, 61, is helping to steer a bank that has made significant changes in the past few years. Along with buying the First Niagara branches, Northwest has sold its three branches in Maryland, closed branches in some other markets, and exited some businesses, such as its consumer finance subsidiary. The bank bought Ohio-based Lorain National Bank in 2015 and has rolled out new financial products.

"It's down to execution," Seiffert said. "We can spend more time now in 2018 executing all the initiatives, all the investments that we made. And we're starting to see some very good results coming out of the box in January and February, in terms of the payoff of all those changes that have occurred over the last three to five years."

Acquisitions are a hallmark of Northwest's growth strategy, Seiffert said, but the bank is also eager to cultivate growth from the markets it already serves.

The Buffalo Niagara region is "huge to us," he said. "Before we were able to garner enough bulk and critical mass with the First Niagara [branches] acquisition here, and before we were able to make the [Lorain] acquisition over in Cleveland, we were primarily a bank in a lot of rural markets."

Northwest continues to work effectively in rural markets, Seiffert said, but has also built a presence in the Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh metro areas.

"We've got a larger community strategy and then we've got our core rural market strategy. We reflect on the fact we can compete quite well in both of those, but they complement each other."

Seiffert, an Ohio native, brought a lengthy banking resume to Northwest. Most recently, he was chairman, CEO and president of Ohio-based Delaware County Bank, until that bank was acquired in early 2017. He also had roles at Huntington National Bank and Bank One before spending a few years in academia at Ohio Dominican University, including a stint as interim president. But he felt the pull to return to banking, and was hired by Delaware County Bank.

In his new job, Seiffert works alongside executives who have built their careers at Northwest. Wagner joined in 1984. William Harvey Jr., now chief financial officer, was hired by the bank in 1996, and Steven Fisher, now chief revenue officer, started at Northwest in 1983.

"Ron's been an excellent addition to our staff," Fisher said. "He brings in new insight and new energy. He's been very thoughtful about the process of integrating himself into Northwest."

Northwest has unveiled plans for a new branch on Jefferson Avenue, as well as a nearby financial literacy center in partnership with Belmont Housing Resources for WNY Inc. John Golding, Northwest's New York region president, said the literacy center is the type of community impact the bank wants to make.

"It is the bridge to tie the branch the community together," he said.

Seiffert said it's important for Northwest not to lose its community bank feel as it grows.

"There's certain bankers who are part of bigger banks who would prefer a community bank environment to work in," Seiffert said. "Those are the bankers that we want to work for Northwest. That's why I'm sitting here. I could have gone back into big banking after Delaware County Bank, but I knew I want to come back into a community bank environment."

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