News Column

First Niagara's second quarter net income rises 3.8 percent

July 25, 2014

By Matt Glynn, The Buffalo News, N.Y.



July 25--First Niagara Financial Group's second-quarter net income rose nearly 4 percent from a year ago, while the bank continued its push to bolster its technology systems.

The Buffalo-based bank on Friday reported quarterly profits of $73.8 million. It recorded diluted earnings per share of 19 cents, up from 18 cents a year and topping analysts' estimates by a penny.

First Niagara's dominant story line this year is the rollout of its plan to spend about $250 million, over three to four years, on investments intended to improve the bank's profitability. The bank is under pressure from investors and shareholders to reap more benefits from the banks it has acquired in recent years. And First Niagara's stock price has symbolized its struggle to deliver: it closed at $8.82 per share on Friday, down $1.56 from a year ago.

Gary M. Crosby, the bank's president and chief executive officer, said the bank's multiyear "strategic investment plan" is on time and on budget. He cited two examples of the plan taking effect.

In late April, the bank implemented a new loan processing system for its indirect auto loan business. The 1,200 auto dealers that First Niagara works with have shifted to the system.

"We are already seeing positive results, with a 26 percent increase in the number of loans closed," Crosby said in a conference call with analysts. With the more-efficient system, the bank can increase the number of applications reviewed for credit analysis, as well as the number of loans funded per loan processor, he said.

"The customer experience at the [car] dealer is a much quicker response," said Gregory W. Norwood, the bank's chief financial officer.

And using the system's analytics, the bank can be more precise in its pricing, Norwood said.

First Niagara also upgraded its commercial loan servicing system, and has converted 10,000 customer accounts to the new platform.

The system is better for customers and a more efficient, less manual process for First Niagara employees to use, Norwood said.

While Crosby said he likes the results so far, he refused to label the investments a "technology plan."

"Technology is the enabler," he said. "And as Steve Jobs said, you have to start with the customer experience and work back towards technology, not the other way around."

In the second quarter, First Niagara's net interest income increased slightly from a year ago, to $272 million. Its non-interest income fell 15 percent from a year ago to $80.8 million, with declines in deposit service charges, mortgage banking and capital markets income.

The bank's non-interest expenses increased about 4 percent from a year ago, to $244 million, driven by higher expenses for marketing, advertising and professional services.

The bank recorded increases in both commercial and consumer loans from the year before. Commercial loans increased 9 percent from a year ago, and consumer loans rose 10 percent, with indirect auto loans a major contributor.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com

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(c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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Source: Buffalo News (NY)


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