Waterbury-based Webster Bank, whose Stamford branch is shown above, has hired 20 former FleetBoston Financial Corp. employees in various departments following Bank of America’s acquisition of Fleet.

It’s well documented and well known that mergers and acquisitions create the opportunity for stable banks to capture customers. But the acquisition of FleetBoston Financial Corp. by North Carolina-based Bank of America has Connecticut-based banks capturing more than just customers.

In the wake of that mega-merger, dozens of experienced bankers – especially those in commercial lending – have been laid off, left Fleet Bank of their own accord or been wooed away by other banks over the last few months and are now joining up with smaller, Connecticut-based banks. Waterbury-based Webster Bank has hired 20 former Fleet employees in various departments, Bridgeport-based People’s Bank has hired at least four in its Commercial Lending Division and New Haven-based NewAlliance Bank – itself the product of a recent merger – has hired several in its Commercial Lending Division.

“There’s clearly some activity,” said Brian Arsenault, executive vice president at NewAlliance.

Mergers and acquisitions often create some anxiety among the employees of the institutions involved. They can sometimes lead to layoffs and employees don’t always know who will be cut.

“There has been a degree of uncertainty,” said Patrick Murphy, Webster Bank’s executive vice president of human resources.

Some employees of banks involved in mergers and acquisitions might not want to work for a bigger bank and sometimes find that their position changes, said Brent Digiorgio, spokesman for People’s Bank.

“Some employees of banks like Fleet that have become larger institutions that maybe don’t mirror the original institution may want to join an organization that does mirror the organization they joined many years ago,” he said.

Opportunity Knocks

As banks get bigger, their focus often veers away from the local approach many bankers are used to, Digiorgio said. Many employees want to stay with an institution that has a similar focus to the one they joined years ago, he said.

Digiorgio is an example of an employee who left a bank after it merged. He first worked for Connecticut National Bank but, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, Connecticut National Bank became part of Boston-based Fleet and Digiorgio moved on. In his years of banking, Digiorgio had gone from working for a $30 billion institution to working for a $60 billion institution, he said. Ultimately, he went to People’s, a $12 billion bank with more of a focus on Connecticut.

Employees from what is now Bank of America might have similar sentiments, Digiorgio said.

“We’re definitely Connecticut- and New England-focused, while Bank of America is focused all over the United States,” he said. “It’s [People’s market] a more focused approach.”

People’s, Webster and NewAlliance all have hired commercial bankers from Fleet recently.

“There is some talent out there,” Arsenault said.

He has mostly noticed activity in the hiring of commercial bankers, but has seen some activity with frontline customer service-oriented employees, as well.

“We’ve seen some [former Fleet] tellers [hired by community banks],” Arsenault said. “We’ve seen some inside people [hired].”

One bank in New Jersey hired a whole team of commercial lenders from Fleet, he said.

The number of experienced bankers in the job market has provided an opportunity for Webster to grow, Murphy said. Many of the new employees already had relationships with customers in the area and have brought more business to Webster, he said. And it hasn’t been particularly difficult to recruit those connected bankers.

“Webster, fortunately, has a very positive reputation in the marketplace,” Murphy said.

The bank has both been seeking out talented bankers from Fleet and has been contacted by job seekers, he said.

“It’s been a positive thing for us and for the people who have come to work for us,” he said.

People’s announced in September that it hired four commercial lenders from Bank of America shortly after the bank acquired Fleet. Donald W. Peters joined People’s as vice president for commercial lending in Waterbury. Peters started in banking in 1979, when he worked for BankBoston. BankBoston eventually became Fleet, then Bank of America.

People’s also hired Garth J. Collins as corporate vice president for commercial lending in its northwest region. Collins also began his banking career at BankBoston. A third lender, Giovanni DelSanto, who is People’s vice president for commercial lending in the Greater Waterbury area, started his career at Shawmut Bank in Hartford in 1992. He joined Fleet in 1995.

Harold F. Geissler also has joined People’s Bank as the bank’s eastern region market manager. He is responsible for commercial lending in the Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury and Norwich/New London areas. He began his lending career at Colonial Bank/BankBoston in 1981.