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Activists fear further banking disparity if Key-First Niagara merger is approved

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In the final days of a public comment period for the proposed merger of KeyCorp and First Niagara, activists in Buffalo say there's already serious banking underrepresentation in many Buffalo neighborhoods that they fear could become worse.

First Niagara would be absorbed by KeyCorp, based in Cleveland, and many fear that it will result in the loss of hundreds of jobs in Buffalo. Activists standing outside the Larkin Building, which houses the corporate offices of First Niagara, say while there has been plenty of talk about the threat of job losses, what is not discussed is the already-existing disparity in Buffalo neighborhoods.

They claimed that in 2014, of the 1,729 home loans issued by First Niagara, only 38 went to African-American borrowers. Upon its absorption by KeyCorp, there would be two major banks that would hold more than 80 percent of the local banking market. 

"There's three banks that currently dominate. That's M&T, First Niagara and Key," said Thomas Keily of the Western New York Law Center.

"Where are people going to turn? They'll have two main bank branches to turn to in terms of branch networks and products. It will have an impact."

The speakers outside the Larkin Building say they do not hate banks. To the contrary, they insist, banks can be a critical player in the economic growth of the city - as long as they do not leave minorities and lower-income families behind.

"We're not the creme-de-la-creme but we're not sour cream, either," said Lucy Velez. "We've got things we can offer. We want to pay our bills. We pay our taxes. We want to pay our taxes. We want to keep our homes. We want to make it so we can afford to continue living in the city because we haven't abandoned the city."

The Federal Reserve in Cleveland, where KeyCorp is headquartered, will accept public comments until Sunday by email at comments.applications@clev.frb.gov.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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