New Bank on the Block: One month in, the TCBN checks in with FNBA

It was no April Fool's prank when customers of the First Financial Bank (FFB) found their bank gone on April 1.

First National Bank of America (FNBA) purchased FFB, closing the Traverse City office on March 31 and re-opening the branch the next day as an FNBA branch. In the approximately $50 million deal, the East Lansing-based bank also agreed to buy a substantial percentage of FFB's commercial loans in Michigan.

"When we buy the loans, everything stays as it was," explains FNBA CEO Ken Foote in an email. "No change in rates and terms. No change in due dates. To a large extent it will have very minimal impact on these loan customers…We have to earn the right to retain our customers' business. This should never be taken for granted. I hope we won't fall into the trap of being so anxious to get the newest customer that you forget to serve your existing ones in an exceptional way. We also need to find those customers that we can bring value to."

Foote emphasizes that FNBA is a Michigan bank.

"All our branches are in Michigan – so are our 185 staff members," he says." This move is an investment in Michigan. We like being in Michigan and believe the future is good. Traverse City is a great place to be – we are excited about the opportunity to serve there. Perhaps other regional banks feel that Michigan is not a place to increase your presence in. We believe it is."

For FNBA this represents an expansion of its single branch in East Lansing to include the two new offices formerly occupied by FFB at 333 Grandview Parkway and in Grandville, near Grand Rapids.

No commercial or retail accounts were closed because of the sale, though some were sold to FNBA in the transaction. Some FFB employees have been retained by FNBA.

"100 percent of the staff members associated with the branch operation are staying (a total of four)," says Foote. "This was one of the primary reasons we liked Traverse City was to establish a branch presence. We retained someone in the commercial loan area, but did not retain others, so five of eight (employees were retained.).

Presently FNBA has nearly $500 million in assets, making it one of the largest nationally-chartered banks with headquarters in Michigan. It has loans in all 83 counties and employs more than 180 Michigan workers. To learn more about FNBA go to BN