National City customers get reassurances from buyer

PERKINS TWP. Concerned about the stability of her longtime bank, Aretta Smith received a call from a
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

Concerned about the stability of her longtime bank, Aretta Smith received a call from a National City spokesperson last week reassuring her that her money would be safe.

The next day, she learned the bank had been sold.

"That really got me," said Smith, 74, who has banked with National City for nearly 50 years. "This is my bank -- I know the people here."

As customers absorb the news that Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial acquired the struggling bank for $5.58 billion, National City officials say average customers aren't likely to notice much difference.

But there are no guarantees that the deal -- expected to close by the end of the year -- won't affect bank employees.

National City district president Albert Tegel, who oversees the nine banks in Erie and Huron counties, said the acquisition will strengthen a bank that had been burdened by bad mortgages and credit debt.

Just days before the announcement, National City reported a third-quarter loss and said it planned to cut 4,000 jobs -- about 14 percent of its workforce, according to Associated Press reports.

As a PNC bank, Tegel said, it will stand on solid ground once again.

"(As National City), we had a mediocre rating by rating agencies like Standard & Poor's and Moody's (which perform financial analysis on banks and other entities)," Tegel said. "But PNC got an A-plus -- the highest rating you can get."

The acquisition makes PNC Financial the nation's fifth-largest bank by deposits -- with about $180 billion, PNC chairman James Rohr said in a news conference.

PNC was also approved for $7.7 billion in government assistance through the $700 billion program aimed at rescuing banks with troubled assets.

Tegel said with PNC's clout, he believes the bank will have more products and opportunities to offer its customers.

Though National City's Cleveland headquarters will likely suffer a staff reduction, Tegel said local employees shouldn't be affected.

"There are no guarantees, but it appears we'll still have our same staff working here," he said.

Tegel said the entire transition could take more than two years.

In the meantime, he said customers may have to use up their National City checks and will possibly be issued new ones later at the bank's expense.

The terms of any other services, such as certificates of deposit, checking and savings accounts, are still guaranteed.

Tegel also said National City hopes to keep its commitment to the local community and recently pledged $15,000 toward the YMCA's campaign.

"We've always been very generous with charitable organizations, and I don't see that changing," he said.

Those with corporate accounts, however, are bracing themselves for a little more hassle.

Developer John Hoty said the transition could slow down large projects that rely on commercial banking services.

"If you're building a new project, the local touch becomes that much more important," he said. "(It's) their familiarity with the area, their understanding of the economics."

Hoty said the area has seen its share of other mergers and acquisitions before.

"The depositors shouldn't worry. The branch people don't have to worry," he said. "But the higher up you get, the more you have to worry about -- the more you need complex services, and the more you don't know if that will continue."

BGSU Firelands college development associate George Mayer said the possibility of branch closings or consolidations always exists in any buyout or merger.

Mayer, a former Key Bank president, said the National City sale could lead to some job cuts, but it's unlikely the new bank would eliminate local branches.

"I would think that PNC, they would be competing in this market already with three regional banks already here -- U.S. Bank, Key Bank and Fifth Third. I think they would be very competitive in terms of products offered to commercial clients, and I'd think they'd certainly work very hard to retain business relationships with customers (here)," Mayer added.

Sean Serna, vice president of investments at Stifel Nicolaus in Sandusky, said his firm didn't have a lot of National City shares on the books -- which was good, considering shares plummeted from $28 last year to a close at $2.23 apiece.

"It really was unfortunate, because you're looking at a bank that was founded in 1845," Serna said. "But we could very well, and probably will, see more consolidations like this. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- just something we're going to see more of."