Rick Hamister developed an interest in banking at an early age, from his mother. She was an M&T Bank teller in the 1950s at the Southgate Plaza branch in West Seneca.
"She talked to me about banking from the time I was little," Hamister said. "I always thought banking was just a noble profession. We take care of communities and individuals and businesses, and that's what wakes me up in the morning."
Hamister grew up in Orchard Park and took a job at M&T early in his career, in 1989. He managed the retail area at M&T's headquarters, which put him in close contact with leaders like the late Robert G. Wilmers.
The experience made an impression on Hamister. "I watched the way Mr. Wilmers treated everybody, from the elevator guy to the top of the house," he said. "He was the same with everybody."
After a decade at M&T, Hamister spent about six years as an executive vice president with the Hamister Group. (Rick is a cousin of Mark Hamister, the company's well-known chairman and CEO.)
But banking was his true passion. In 2005, Hamister joined First Niagara Bank, where he ran retail branches and worked in its wealth management segment.
Hamister moved over to KeyBank with the 2016 merger. An opportunity opened up this year at Pennsylvania-based Northwest Bank, as its New York region president, when John Golding was promoted. Hamister was hired, and he now oversees a market with 34 branches in five counties.
Hamister, 58, talked about what he's learned during his banking career, and what he hopes to achieve at Northwest:
Q: When you were at First Niagara, you held monthly lunches with an outstanding employee. What did you get from those?
A: I had the people who reported to me nominate a different individual from each area, so I put together a lunch. And I loved those lunches, because you hear great things from folks. Sometimes in a casual atmosphere, rather in an office, you learn more about business. That gave me a great chance to learn about what we did, their view of the business. They had some really great customer ideas, too.
It's super-important that at every role in the bank, that you get to talk to people at different levels and check in with different folks. I try to make that a regular habit.
Q: What drew you to the Northwest job?
A: It fit the kinds of things I think about. I think about relationship banking a lot. Especially on the business side, one of the differentiators is commercial lenders having close relationships with their clients. At a bank like Northwest, that's really important.
Q: You've worked at a couple of banks, M&T and Key, with much more resources. What's it like competing with them now?
A: I think Northwest is well positioned. We have great relationships with clients, and I think we're building great relationships, both on the commercial side and on the retail side. We are staying as close to the client as we can. A lot of our decision making is close by. … They are great competitors, which makes it fun to compete. We hope they think of us as great competitors, too.
Q: Northwest is in the midst of a five-year, $102 million community benefits plan, making loans and investments. What are your impressions of that program?
A: I love that we are tied to the community, I love that we're putting a branch on Jefferson [Avenue] and we can be part of the revitalization of that neighborhood, including the literacy center that we're helping support.
We've watched the city really develop between Canalside and SolarCity and the medical campus. To be part of the Jefferson project, it's going to the next area of the city that we really have the chance to do some exciting things. To be on the ground floor of that, it's wonderful. It's what a community-responsible bank should do.
Q: What's your view of the local economy?
A: For those of us that have been around Buffalo for a long time, this is really exciting times, to see the waterfront development and all the different properties that are going on. And Northwest is a strong commercial real estate lender, so we've been right in the middle of a number of those projects.
Q: Do you still see disruption from the Key-First Niagara deal, this far removed from it?
A: There's opportunities that come out of every disruption. I think we've done a really, really good job of retaining the clients we acquired. I think now we have an opportunity to start talking to other folks and see about increasing our market share.
Q: What do you want to accomplish in this job?
A: A couple things. One, I want to take great care of our clients. That's first and foremost. And we have some really strong, talented people on this team. I want that to continue that and I want to expand on that and hopefully get a chance to grow our market.
I know Northwest can be an even bigger part of this community. It's almost ground-floor and entrepreneurial. We're right on the start of it.