LAWRENCE K. FISH – ‘A significant transaction’

It might have been a $10.5 billion transaction, but Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Bank’s acquisition of Cleveland-based Charter One Financial won’t affect many Connecticut customers. It will, however, allow Citizens to expand its footprint to some previously untouched areas.

The bank completed the acquisition of Charter One, whose main subsidiary is Charter One Bank, on Aug. 31. The transaction expanded Citizens into six additional states, most of which are in the Midwest, and turned Citizens into the 12th largest commercial bank holding company with about $131 billion in assets and the ninth largest in deposits, with about $88 billion.

Acquisitions have been a way of life for the bank over the last several years. Since 1991, Citizens has acquired 25 other institutions, including several Connecticut banks.

“Citizens Bank is a growth company,” said Heather Tolley, vice president and director of public relations for the bank.

The acquisitions are a major part of the bank’s growth strategy, she said. Charter One has a good reputation and was instrumental in allowing Citizens to expand its footprint, she said.

“It was just a good opportunity that presented itself at the right time,” she said.

Legally the first day of the transition was Sept. 1, Tolley said, and the bank filed papers shortly after that to convert Charter One’s six Connecticut branches to Citizens branches. There was little overlap since Citizens had nearly no branches in the same cities and towns as Charter One. The one exception was in Rocky Hill, but the two branches are on opposite sides of the town, Tolley said.

“We plan to keep that branch,” she said.

So it is unlikely, Tolley added, that any Charter One employees will be facing significant changes or layoffs.

“We do not anticipate any changes in personnel,” she said.

Citizens will need all of Charter One’s customer-facing positions, Tolley said. Most of the new branches are in the Greater Hartford area – Bristol, Branford, Southington, Newington and Glastonbury. There is also a new branch in Manchester and two in Waterbury, where competitor Webster Bank is based. Although the Citizens is moving into Webster’s backyard, Tolley noted Citizens’ presence in Waterbury will be relatively small. A couple of the branches – one in Waterbury and one in Bristol – will be in Price Chopper Supermarkets.

The signs will change from Charter One to Citizens Bank sometime this fall, Tolley said.

‘An Exciting Opportunity’

Citizens’ previous experience with acquiring banks is helping the transition go smoothly, according to Tolley. Most of the transition took place at the beginning of September and involved integrating the customers. Parts of the transition will be ongoing for the next several months, she said.

“The transition’s going great,” she noted. “We acquire banks and we are accustomed to creating a good transition for our customers.”

Citizens now has a total of 430 employees in Connecticut, Tolley said.

The acquisition came at a good time for Citizens, she said.

“It’s just a really exciting opportunity for us,” Tolley said.

The bank originally announced the acquisition on May 4.

“This is a significant transaction for Citizens,” said Lawrence K. Fish, the Citizen Financial Group’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement. “It brings us to the Midwest and expands our presence in New England and the mid-Atlantic. We look forward to bringing to thousands of new customers Citizens’ successful model of outstanding customer service and strong commitments to our communities and employees.”

Charter One’s national bank charter will remain intact and the bank’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles John Koch will serve as the Cleveland-based bank’s chairman, as vice chairman of the Citizens Financial Group board and on the board of Citizens’ parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland.