A lot of water and a few barrels have gone over Niagara Falls since First Niagara Bank was founded. Tracing its roots to 1870, the flagship subsidiary of acquisitive First Niagara Financial operates about 430 branches in upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The bank offers financial services like deposits, loans, insurance, investments, and wealth management. Commercial real estate loans, business loans, and residential mortgages account for most of the bank's loan portfolio. Subsidiary First Niagara Risk Management offers risk management, employee benefits consulting, and investment services, while First Niagara Commercial Bank accepts municipal deposits.
First Niagara has been expanding rapidly via transformative acquisitions. In 2012 the company bought nearly 200 HSBC branches in upstate New York and Connecticut for some $1 billion. To satisfy antitrust concerns, it is selling more than 35 locations included in the deal to KeyCorp, and nearly 30 more to Community Bank System and Financial Institutions in separate transactions. The company is also consolidating 35 branches with nearby locations. In addition to expanding First Niagara's branch network, the HSBC acquisition will boost the company's commercial business and credit card portfolio as well.
First Niagara previously entered Pennsylvania in a big way, acquiring more than 50 branches from PNC Financial in 2009 and buying bank holding company Harleysville National the next year. The PNC acquisition, which expanded First Niagara's operations into western Pennsylvania, included locations that PNC was compelled to divest to satisfy antitrust concerns regarding its takeover of National City. The purchase of Harleysville National Bank added some 80 branches in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
First Niagara expanded its insurance business in Pennsylvania in 2010 with the acquisitions of employee benefits, risk management, and investment services firm Banyan Consulting and Summit Insurance Group's operations in the state. The new businesses were combined with previous acquisitions RTI Insurance Services and Three Rivers Financial Services and took the First Niagara Risk Management name.
To facilitate its expansion, First Niagara Financial converted from a thrift holding company to a bank holding company and First Niagara Bank converted from a savings institution to a commercial bank in 2010, moves that gave the company more flexibility in making acquisitions.
In 2011 the company completed its $1.5 billion acquisition of NewAlliance Bancshares, adding some 90 bank branches and extending its franchise into Connecticut and Massachusetts. The addition, along with organic growth in First Niagara's commercial loan portfolio, contributed to a nearly 25% increase in net income for the company that year.
Prior to its latest round of acquisitions, First Niagara Financial had already more than doubled its size with an earlier spree of smaller deals. It had fewer than 50 branches operating under its banner at the end of 2003. That year, the company acquired Finger Lakes Bancorp. It bought Troy Financial in 2004 and Hudson River Bancorp the following year. In 2008 the company bought Great Lakes Bancorp, the parent of Greater Buffalo Savings Bank. – less