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United Bank’s branch aspirations take root

BY Gregory Seay

9/24/2018
HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
United’s newest branch debuted earlier this year in downtown Hartford, in CityPlace II.
While People's United Financial weighs which of its and Farmington Bank's branches will remain after their pending tie-up, Hartford community lender United Bank is expanding its regional network of remote banking offices.

The flagship of United Financial Bancorp, headquartered in downtown's Goodwin Square skyscraper, earlier this month received unconditional approval from state Banking Commissioner Jorge L. Perez to acquire a half-dozen offices from cross-state, super-regional rival Webster Bank, half of them in the Greater Springfield market.

All six, including two in Connecticut (Waterford and Groton) and another in Rhode Island, will officially reopen Oct. 9 under the United Bank banner, a bank official said. As part of the transition, however, United Bank also notified Connecticut regulators of plans to shut three of its Massachusetts branches in close proximity to the Webster offices.

Overall, the deal will allow United to tap into new markets in the Ocean State and along Connecticut's coastline, and deepen its footprint in Greater Springfield, a market that was previously home to its former community-bank predecessor, United Bank of West Springfield. That United Bank in April 2014 carried out with former Rockville Bank of Vernon a "merger of equals'' that birthed the current $7.2 billion-asset institution.

In May, when his bank announced the Webster-branch deal, United CEO William H.W. "Bill" Crawford IV said it would enhance "our already strong presence in Western Mass., where we enjoy significant franchise value, builds greater brand recognition and delivers new banking opportunities along the Connecticut shoreline — which will be a strong market for us and grows our branch banking network into new markets in Connecticut and Rhode Island."

Separately, Bridgeport super-regional lender People's United Bank will likely soon disclose how many branches will remain open after its $544 million acquisition of First Connecticut Bancorp, Farmington Bank's parent.

Farmington Bank previously alerted state labor overseers to People's plan to shed some 95 staffers once the deal is consummated.

Three branches closing

The state banking commissioner approved the United Bank-Webster branch swap Sept. 6. As part of the approval process, the commissioner had to consider all competitive opportunities and threats to United Bank and its competitors from opening more branches.

It's rare, at least in Connecticut, for bank regulators to reject branch expansions or closings.

According to United Bank's filing, it paid Waterbury-based Webster Bank an unspecified sum for three full-service branches in the Greater Springfield area: 62 Center St., East Longmeadow, Mass.; 1355 Boston Road, Springfield; and 50 Elm St., West Springfield.

In Connecticut, United Bank will run Webster's ex-office at 654 Long Hill Road in Groton, and one at 124-B Boston Post Road in Waterford.

Finally, United added a banking office at 50 Franklin St., in the town of Westerly, R.I. Webster declared last May, when the branch sale was announced, that the outposts accounted for about $120 million in deposits.

Presently, United operates 54 branches and ATM kiosks in shared retail space in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but that count is slated to shrink slightly.

United also notified Connecticut regulators of plans to shut three of its Massachusetts branches — 94 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow; 459 Main St., Springfield; and 95 Elm St., West Springfield — near the Webster offices it acquired. Staff in the closed United offices likely will be reallocated among its remaining offices.