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New York, NY
reply to rchandra

Re: [NY] Bank suggestions in the Buffalo area

Hi rchandra-

I have extensive experience dealing with Evans, M&T, and First Niagara, HSBC, B of A, UBS, Wells Fargo, and Chase. None with Ally/GMAC.

When debating ATM fees... I would consider how often you are in a situation where you would be charged a foreign ATM transaction fee... If that's 1-10x a year, it's not worth being bothered as you have the convenience of having a branch (If you routinely use services that can only be provided by a branch) so close to you.

Stay away from B of A. First Niagara, Evans, and M&T all have somewhat clunky online banking websites, but the customer service at all three of these banks is great (Highest being M&T, followed by First Niagara, then Evans). First Niagara is in the process of working on a new site (although I have no idea when that will go into production). The reason I rank Evans lower is that they are trying to grow their bank, along with First Niagara, and as a result you get some customer service reps and branch managers who are idiots, and it takes awhile for them to filter out of the system. (I've experienced this mostly with Evans).

If you have an iPhone and don't really ever need to go to a branch, I'd keep a no fee checking account open with a local bank (just in case), and consider using Chase. Their iPhone app which lets you take a photo of a check instead of having to go to a branch or ATM to deposit it is a major time saver... I know of no other local or regional bank in the area offers this (and to my knowledge Chase is the only one that offers this Nationally, maybe Ally?).

An alternative to this is your financial planner or wealth management adivsor (they have many titles, but do the same thing) if you have one. Often times the larger business like Morgan Stanley, UBS and Merril Lynch (part of B of A, Stay away!) offer no fee, free checking and have better online banking sites, and they reimburse all ATM fees.

The banking industry in Buffalo is in a unique situation and will most likely undergo a few more major transformations within the next 5-10 years. Traditionally IT Departments at all of the local banks have have underfunded until recently. New regulation and reporting requirements resulted in the need for banks of all sizes to revamp or replace their systems.

1. First Niagara acquired HSBC customers, but did not acquire the HSBC systems. As a result they are in the process of re-building and implementing a new in-house software suite, so the integration of these two banks internally may take 2-3 years. They also overpaid for the HSBC branches (as strongly indicated by their stock performance), so I'd expect more growing pains there for awhile.

2. Evans is implementing new in house system next year which should substantially improve the customer experience. They are also continuing to increase the size of the bank so with that comes growing pains.

3. I'm not quite sure what M&T is doing as far as growth is concerned or with their systems (they have integrated the Wilmington Trust acquisition well). The CEO is going to be retiring soon, and some think M&T is being eyed by Wells Fargo as a potential acquisition. Warren Buffet has substantial influence and investments in both banks, and Wells Fargo does not have a substantial presence in Upstate NY, Baltimore, or Connecticut.

4. None of this is really good for consumers/ retail banking, so it will be interesting to see where things go... Hard choice on your part.

The New Haven Railroad
Buffalo, NY

Besides First Niagara acquiring some HSBC branches, so did Key Bank.