Thursday, March 18, 2004

Bank buyer may cut 800 jobs

Provident merger to have big impact

By Jeff McKinney
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Up to 800 jobs could be eliminated at Provident Bank after National City Corp. completes its $2.1 billion purchase of Cincinnati's second-largest banking company, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Neither Provident Financial Group Inc., parent of Provident Bank, nor Cleveland-based National City would confirm the figure.

However, the source said the cuts could range from 400 to 800 jobs, based on the 25 percent in annual savings that National City said it expects to achieve after the merger. The source said the impact could be lessened if National City merges some Midwestern back-office operations into Provident.

National City executives acknowledged Wednesday that the company plans to cut jobs in Cincinnati, but has not determined how many will be eliminated. They said a 40-member team has been formed to analyze post-merger matters. The integration team, made up of Provident and National City employees, will determine how the banks merge systems, products and operations and will analyze staffing, said Shelley Seifert, National City's executive vice president of human resources.

The process has just begun, she said, and should be completed by the time the Provident name is replaced by National City in January. The merger, announced in February, is expected to be completed by July. It will create the eighth-largest U.S. bank with assets of more than $130 billion.

"Obviously, during this period, we will find redundant jobs," Seifert said. "But our primary focus will be as much on helping (Provident) people find jobs with the company as on the job cuts themselves."

National City has said it does not plan to close Provident branches and in fact expects to add as many as 12 in the region, offering possible opportunities for Provident employees whose positions are eliminated elsewhere in the company. Provident now has 52 offices in Greater Cincinnati.

The source close to the process, who asked not to be identified, said 20 percent to 25 percent of Provident's companywide workforce of 3,200 could be eliminated. The source said most of the reductions probably would come from back-office operations, mainly downtown and in Queensgate. Under that scenario, 640 to 800 jobs could be cut.

David Daberko, National City's chairman and chief executive, has said the company hopes to slash Provident's annual expense base of $500 million by 25 percent, saving at least $115 million a year.

Jeff Davis, an FTN Midwest Research Inc. analyst who follows Provident, said job cuts typically come from back-office positions, such as check and loan processing. Such operations usually are duplicated. He estimates that about half of National City's annual savings from Provident would be related to costs tied to severance.

"It's a loss for Cincinnati," he said. "But National City is a very strong company, and that's good for Cincinnati."

In addition to worker reductions, National City also could get millions in savings by erasing other Provident-duplicated operations, according to the source close to the deal. For instance, expenses for office space, consulting fees, training, accounting, legal fees, travel and maintenance on computer software might be reduced.

Seifert said displaced Provident employees will get a 60-day notice and receive a minimum of 12 weeks severance, equal to their base pay, after termination. All will receive health insurance and other benefits as long as they don't quit before their termination date, she said.

She said National City will help workers find new jobs and some may remain with National City. "Our objective is to find employment for as many people as we possibly can," she said.

Other banks might be able to absorb some of the job cuts at Provident. For example, Fifth Third, the area's largest bank, said it has 394 job openings in Greater Cincinnati while U.S. Bank said it has 100 positions available in the region.


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