FAIRPORT – Upstate New York takes its knocks as a slow-growth place for business, but top executives at Financial Institutions, the parent of Five Star Bank, look at the landscape differently.
“As other banks have shifted their focus from the region, we have embraced it,” said Martin K. Birmingham, Financial Institutions’ president and chief executive officer, at its annual meeting on Wednesday. “There’s plenty of opportunity in upstate New York, and we are committed to this market.”
Warsaw-based Financial Institutions and its network of more than 50 Five Star branches in Western and Central New York are coming off a series of notable changes.
Birmingham, 46, was named its president and CEO earlier this year, following the abrupt resignation of longtime CEO Peter G. Humphrey in August 2012. Humphrey had been CEO since 1994, and he was the fourth generation of the family that had controlled and run the company and its subsidiary banks for more than a century. Some other top officers were also named in the past year.
And last year, Financial Institutions acquired four former HSBC USA branches and four former First Niagara branches. Those offices’ switch to Five Star locations has gone smoothly and “deposit retention levels are exceeding our expectations,” Birmingham said.
The acquisitions increased Five Star’s market share in Genesee, Chemung and Seneca counties, and expanded its presence into Orleans County, with the addition of offices in Albion and Medina. Through the deals, Five Star picked up 12,000 new customers, $287 million in deposits, more than $75 million in loans, and bolstered its employment by more than 10 percent.
“Opportunistic acquisitions will be a component of our growth strategy going forward,” Birmingham said.
Five Star has only three branches in Erie County, but executives see great potential to grow in that market. According to FDIC data from last June, Erie County had a deposit base of nearly $30 billion, and Five Star had just 0.4 percent of it, ranking 12th in market share.
“We don’t have to go very far to get it,” said Kevin B. Klotzbach, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “That’s the beauty of it all, it’s right contiguous to our existing footprint. We just have to move over just slightly, without disturbing the franchise.”
Five Star’s size and community banking model places it in an “industry sweet spot,” large enough to be able to cope with an increasingly complex regulatory burden, but small enough to stay close to the communities it serves, Klotzbach said. “We’re not in some ivory tower far away where we can’t be accessed, and we think that has a huge advantage with developing our customer base.”
Since last August, when Humphrey resigned, Financial Institutions’ stock price has risen 12 percent.
Financial Institutions in 2012 reported net income of $23.4 million, up 2.9 percent from the previous year. It reported net income of $6.3 million in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, down 0.7 percent from a year earlier.
John E. Benjamin, Financial Institutions’ chairman, said Financial Institutions this year has to balance three objectives: managing costs, growing organically and looking at potential acquisitions. “Those are the three legs of the stool, and you’ve got to match those up with what the marketplace gives you, and we’ve got a plan to do that.”