Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007

PNC banks on new branches’ community ties

117-year-old Citizens National will have history preserved

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Photo courtesy PNC Financial Services Group
This Citizens National Bank check from the 1890s is part of a display at the Laurel bank.
Former Mercantile Bank branches and each of its affiliates, including those in Maryland, will soon assume their rightful name.

PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh acquired Mercantile Bankshares of Baltimore in March for about $6 billion in stock and cash. The acquisition expanded PNC’s presence in the state from nine to nearly 200 branches, and made it the No. 2 bank in Maryland in terms of deposits, said Laila Krause, PNC executive vice president.

PNC now has 11 branches in Prince George’s County, with a 12th expected to open in Bowie this year.

The acquisition created one of the largest wealth managers in the country, with $76 billion in assets under management, according to a company report.

The change of one branch’s name is particularly significant.

Citizens National Bank, at 390 Main St., Laurel, opened its doors in 1890 and was the county’s first nationally chartered bank. It became an affiliate bank of Mercantile in 1973, and continued to be independently managed by its own officers and board of directors, according to a Citizens report.

PNC plans to document, preserve and display the bank’s history through The PNC Legacy Project, which honors its predecessor banks and their communities. The project is expected to launch in November, and will feature artifacts, recordings of oral history presented by employees and customers, and financial grants for community history projects and programs sponsored by local nonprofits.

The Laurel project is one of several such historic displays that the bank will coordinate in Maryland. Others will be opening at branches in Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick, Carroll County and the Eastern Shore.

These banks have been around a long time and have close community ties, and PNC wants to maintain that connection, Krause said.

Some of the affiliate banks have been around through wars, hard times and good times, Krause said. The names and histories of those banks are linked to the history of the communities they serve, she said.

Following a merger, banks will work hard to maintain existing members while trying to attract new ones, said Margot Mohsberg, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Associaiton. Reaching out to its new community is ‘‘very important,” she said.

‘‘Banks will often go out of their way to present themselves with the heart of the community in mind,” Mohsberg said.

They want to show people they will retain the original bank’s neighborhood focus and continue to meet customer needs, she said.

About 65 percent of all banks nationwide planned to increase marketing expenditures in 2006, according to Mohsberg.

Bank mergers and acquisitions can be a time of uncertainty for the customer, said Rodney Stump, chairman of Towson University’s department of marketing and e-business.

Customers who deal with bank staff for more than routine services don’t know if the employees with whom they have developed a relationship will remain on board, or if the services they need will still be offered, he said.

‘‘A lot of times there’s concern that the bank will lose that local touch,” said Stump, who said he owns PNC stock.

Community leaders may be worried because banks tend to be at the forefront of local philanthropy and involvement in civic efforts through their participation in nonprofit boards, he said.

‘‘The industry does play a very active role in that community, outside of the banking services that they provide,” Stump said.

PNC Foundation has continued the work Mercantile and its affiliates have done by sponsoring activities in local communities, Krause said. The company committed $25 million to the greater Baltimore and Maryland markets, including $1 million to the Baltimore symphony.

‘‘As we move forward I think we’ll do a great job of connecting PNC to the communities,” Krause said.