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M&T's push into tech brings big payoff for Buffalo: 1,000 new jobs

M&T Bank's push to more rapidly develop and deploy technology will have a big payoff for Buffalo: More than 1,000 new employees who will be hired to work downtown.

M&T expects to fill the first 250 of those jobs this year and to complete the hiring of software engineers, web developers and other digital positions over the next five years. The bank will also add 200 technology-related jobs in Wilmington, Del.

Rene F. Jones, the bank's chairman and CEO, revealed the hiring plans on Tuesday at M&T's annual shareholders meeting at its headquarters. The hiring wave fits with the bank's ramped-up investment in technology and its plan to centralize where its tech employees work.

"We know where we want to go," Jones said. "We know what we want to do. We can't really predict the [hiring] pace. But we anticipate to dive in this year and start getting it done."

M&T has not yet revealed where downtown it will establish its Buffalo tech hub. Jones said the bank is "getting close" to that decision but couldn't specify how soon an announcement might come.

The Buffalo-based bank has more than 7,000 employees in Western New York. Adding 1,000 workers to that would increase M&T's local workforce by about 15 percent. The project would give a boost to downtown by bringing more workers into the city, while also bolster the region's undersized technology sector.

M&T's emphasis on technology investment has grown, with the addition of Michael Wisler a year ago as its chief information officer, and the bank's request for proposals last December for a tech hub location. M&T said it received more responses than it had anticipated from landlords and developers.

One of the landlords interested in the M&T expansion is Douglas Jemal, the owner of the vacant One Seneca Tower. The M&T request prompted him to propose adding more than 110,000 square feet of commercial space to the plan for the complex, which already has 1.2 million square feet of empty space.

M&T already has about 2,500 tech-related workers in the region, spread among several locations. The bank wants to eventually bring them into a centralized location, to promote efficiency and collaboration.

M&T Bank held its annual shareholders meeting in its first-floor banking hall this year. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Jones called the planned tech hub an "innovation factory" where employees in roles such as technologists, data scientists and customer experience engineers "will work side by side with product owners and customer relationship managers to rapidly develop new products and services that meet changing customer needs and expectations."

"The idea behind the innovation hubs is that it's easier to create new things when you sort of bring people with multiple disciplines together, so proximity matters a lot," Jones said.

M&T says its brick-and-mortar branch network remains an essential piece of its operations, but the bank recognizes the need to be competitive and viable in the digital world, where so many customer transactions now take place.

Jones sees technology as transformative to the banking industry, the same as in other industries, and he wants M&T to tap into those capabilities to serve its customers.

"What you realize is that the skills we need to innovate around technology and better experiences are the same skills that you would use in health care, the same skills that you would use in manufacturing, the same skills you would use in almost every industry, because technology is becoming so ubiquitous," he said.

Jones envisions the Buffalo tech hub as attracting tech talent not only for M&T, but also for other companies and tech and entrepreneurial organizations that want to "co-locate" in and around the hub.

M&T is already a powerful economic force, with about 7,400 jobs in the region. Since 2012, the bank has accounted for 12 percent of the net private sector job growth in Western New York, Jones said.

While the bank prepares for its new hiring wave, the bank already has about 1,900 open positions across its multistate footprint, in all types of its operations. Bankwide, M&T has more than 17,000 employees.

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