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KeyBank builds on Buffalo ties, president says

KeyBank has a strong connection to the Buffalo market, and some of it involves the Thruway.

In addition to Key's leaders in Buffalo, "we also have very senior people that have chosen to stay in Buffalo that have very senior corporate roles at Key and basically commute between Buffalo and Cleveland," said Christopher Gorman, Key's president of banking. "For us, that's worked really well."

Gorman visited the Buffalo area on Wednesday, to meet with employees and to call on clients and prospects. Buffalo gets lots of attention from Key: it's the bank's No. 2 market, after its home base of Cleveland, and Larkinville is Key's Northeast regional headquarters.

As Key's acquisition of First Niagara Bank moves further into the past — the deal was completed in summer 2016 — the bank is aiming to capitalize on the combined operations. Gorman oversaw the integration and was promoted to his current job last year. In an interview, Gorman, along with Gary Quenneville, Key's upstate New York regional executive, and Buford Sears, the bank's Buffalo market region president, provided an update on Key's operations:

• Plans for a new East Side branch: "That process is moving along," Quenneville said. "We don't have a site picked out yet." The bank recently held a meeting with community members at True Bethel Baptist Church to discuss the process and gather input, he said.

Quenneville suggested the new branch could be open a year from now, but said it depends on factors like regulatory approval, which is difficult to predict. "We have six branches on the East Side, but there is a gap there," he said.

Christopher Gorman, KeyBank president of banking. (Photo provided by KeyBank)

• How Key's Buffalo market is performing: "This is a very good market for us," Gorman said. "If you think about a business that serves consumers, serves high net worth individuals, and serves businesses across the commercial compendium, Buffalo has been a great market for us."

• Retaining clients and employees post-merger: "I think we can count on one hand the number of significant, regrettable either customer or employee losses in the last 19 months," Sears said. "That's really, really remarkable."

• Building up the residential mortgage business picked up from First Niagara: Key has extended the business line across its footprint, through hiring mortgage loan officers to support its growth, Gorman said. The bank reported its volume of mortgage applications in the first quarter was up 41 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Key's goal is to double its mortgage originations, Gorman said. "If you look at the demographics, there is a huge opportunity around housing broadly." The main hub for Key's mortgage business is on Ridge Lea Road in Amherst; a second hub is in Utah.

• Branch network decisions: Key this year has announced plans to close two area branches, plus one staffed drive-up location. "I think across our industry, you're going to see banks closing between 2 to 3 percent of branches annually," Gorman said. "We would probably be no different."

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