City reacts favorably

Some customers regret loss of local bank, but officials see gain for community

December 20, 2008|By Stephanie Desmon and Arin Gencer | Stephanie Desmon and Arin Gencer,stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com and arin.gencer@baltsun.com

When Jan Darrah chose a place to do her banking about 10 years ago, she picked Provident Bank because it was small and was based right here in town.

"I like to do my business locally as much as possible," the Butchers Hill art teacher said, "because I like to give my money to local business people."

Yesterday, however, she learned that her bank is no longer as small or as local, after Buffalo, N.Y.-based M&T Bank Corp. agreed to purchase Provident Bankshares Corp., the largest remaining Baltimore-based banking company, in a deal worth $401 million.

The sale isn't expected to change much for customers like Darrah. It's possible they could have even more banking options at the many M&T Bank branches around the region. And instead of seeing the acquisition of Provident as the loss of yet another of Baltimore's corporate headquarters, city and community leaders sought yesterday to portray it as more of a gain for the community, which has already embraced M&T, the company whose name graces the Ravens' downtown football stadium.

"It shows that there is going to be a major banking presence here," said Donald Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "I see this as totally contrary to anything but good news for our city and our region."

Said Mayor Sheila Dixon: "M&T has been a great partner."

Considering the state of the economy - and that some small banks have failed in recent months - a few customers yesterday also said they were pleased to learn of the sale.

"It's probably a good thing - having a larger capital base, the ability to invest more in the business," said Bruce Whitaker, a hospital administrator in Baltimore and a longtime Provident customer. "I think it's what's going to happen to a lot of banks. It's tough economic times, and I think the size is going to matter."

Besides, he added, "it's not like it's a bank with no presence" in the city.

The last major Baltimore bank to be acquired was Mercantile Bank, which was purchased two years ago by Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank.

Being local has been central to Provident Bank's image, a theme that struck a chord with customers. Many Provident customers interviewed yesterday said its hometown roots were a main reason they chose to bank there. They fear that the things they liked about their bank - like tellers knowing them by name - will disappear along with the Provident name.

"Unfortunately, I think that's the nature of everything. I think there are very few local places left," said Lisa Kelly, 48, of Towson, who was waiting outside the branch on York Road at lunchtime yesterday. "I will be curious to see how [the bank] changes."

Kelly, who said she has been with Provident about 10 to 15 years, said she would probably stick with M&T at least for the time being.

But Nottingham resident Barbara Ludwig, who has banked at Provident since she got married in 1972, said she might be moving her money around.

"It was a nice family bank," said Ludwig, 57, outside Provident's branch in Perry Hall. Her experience with M&T has not been as pleasant, she said, recalling a visit when no one acknowledged her during a long wait for service.

"I have noticed a difference," she said. "The bigger the businesses get, the more impersonal they are."

Despite her disappointment, Ludwig did see a silver lining in the announcement.

"It's better than your bank going under," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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