ADVERTISEMENT

First Niagara Financial Group is cutting 170 jobs and closing 10 branches as the bank adapts to how customers are using its services, an executive said.

The positions are being cut at branches around First Niagara’s four-state territory; bank officials said 10 employees in Western New York are affected, and three branches in the region are closing. Buffalo-based First Niagara has about 6,000 employees across the company.

The bank is moving administrative duties out of its branches, a shift that led to the job reductions, said Mark Rendulic, First Niagara’s executive vice president of retail banking. The affected employees were invited to apply for other First Niagara job openings; the bank says it is recruiting to fill more than 250 positions, many of which are based in Western New York. Other laid-off employees will receive severance benefits.

“As we have in the past, we’ll work very hard to place individuals in available positions, and a lot of employees, particularly branch employees, have a broad skill set that can be applied in a number of areas,” Rendulic said.

First Niagara is adjusting to how its customers are using branches, mobile and online banking, phone services and ATMs, Rendulic said. More than 140,000 customers signed up for its mobile banking application in its first year, and more than 40 percent of its one million customers are registered for online banking.

The bank is increasing its emphasis on “universal bankers,” a term for versatile branch employees who are able to perform a variety of tasks, such as handling transactions, and offering new products and services, Rendulic said. “Within the branches, what we’ve been focused on is increasing those numbers of customer-facing employees with that broader skill set.”

Rendulic said First Niagara still considers branches “very important,” but he sees in increased need for employees in branches who can handle more-complex transactions, such as mortgage originators, financial advisers and small-business bankers.

Meanwhile, the bank has centralized administrative duties that used to be handled at branches, said Scott Fisher, First Niagara’s managing director of retail channels. For instance, compliance and audit-related duties that branch managers used to be responsible for are now handled by teams outside of the branches.

Fisher said First Niagara is actively increasing the number of branch employees being cross-trained to become “universal bankers,” to meet customers’ needs.

Rendulic said there are no immediate plans for additional job cuts, but he noted there is an “acceleration” of customer transactions out of branches and into other channels, such as online and mobile banking. “I think over time, our front-line, in-branch employees will be more and more focused on meeting the more-complex needs of the customer, and less and less on that transaction volume,” he said.

Of the 10 branches set to close March 7, three are in Western New York: 1000 Elmwood Ave., near Bidwell Parkway in Buffalo; 4237 Union Road, near the Kensington Expressway in Cheektowaga; and 264 Young St. in Wilson. All three were former HSBC Bank branches.

“When we did the HSBC transaction, we consolidated a number of locations,” Rendulic said. “We left some locations open, we wanted to watch customer traffic patterns relative to those locations. And as we’ve watched those patterns, we’ve determined that we’re able to close additional locations and continue to meet the needs of the customers.”

After the 10 branches close, First Niagara will have 410 locations across its network.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com