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End of Metro is end of an era

How a 30-year-old bank that took Central Pennsylvania by storm yielded to investor pressure and decided to sell

More than a name will disappear when Metro Bank is absorbed by F.N.B. Corp. So will a long-running experiment in operating consumer-friendly bank branches with extended weekend and evening hours.

Longer hours were a hallmark of Metro and its predecessor, Commerce Bank/Harrisburg. But they are less relevant — and maybe too costly, analysts said — in an age of mobile banking and smart ATMs.

Officials from F.N.B. Corp., which announced plans Aug. 4 to acquire Swatara Township-based Metro Bancorp Inc. for $474 million, are projecting cost savings of 40 percent based, in part, on possibly shortening hours at Metro’s 32 branches around Central Pennsylvania.

“I will tell you that we did not go into this to make their model meet our model,” F.N.B. President and CEO Vincent Delie Jr. said. “Some aspects of what they do will be added to our model. But there will be adjustments.”

F.N.B. is the bank holding company for First National Bank of Pennsylvania. It has five branches in Cumberland, Dauphin and York counties and is about to add two former Bank of America branches in Lancaster County. After the acquisition of Metro, it expects to have about $19.6 billion in assets, making it the second-largest bank based in Pennsylvania, behind only PNC Bank.

In a conference call with investors, Delie said longer branch hours aren’t as necessary as they were even five years ago, around the time a company rebranding brought Metro Bank to life. Now, Delie said, technology has reached the point where customers can satisfy their banking needs 24 hours a day without visiting a branch.

That makes the expense of longer branch hours ripe for cutting.

“Obviously, that model was too inefficient to run,” said Brian Martin, an analyst who covers F.N.B. for FIG Partners LLC in Atlanta. “I don’t know if you can say that model can’t work and won’t work, but I don’t know of any other banks that run that way. I think Metro was more of an anomaly than the norm. No one else is doing it, and there must be a reason they’re not.”
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End of an era

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Metro’s business model — high-touch, high customer service — came from its predecessor Commerce Bank/Harrisburg. The midstate Commerce operations were an independent franchise of New Jersey-based Commerce Bancorp Inc., founded by Vernon Hill. When TD Bank bought Commerce Bancorp in 2008, the midstate Commerce remained independent but changed its name to Metro.

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