Citizens Financial set to close first of two big acquisitions

Citizens Financial Group, which has been on a merger-and-acquisition streak, is set to finalize the first of two big bank transactions that have been on its plate since last year.

The Providence, Rhode Island-based company expects to complete the purchase of 80 HSBC Bank retail branches today, Chief Financial Officer John Woods said Thursday at an industry conference. The legal close will be followed by a systems conversion over the three-day weekend, so that legacy HSBC accounts should become Citizens accounts by Tuesday.

“We’ve had a number of dry runs and a number of mock conversions and they’ve all gone quite well,” Woods said during the company’s presentation at the Credit Suisse Financial Services Conference. “So we feel really confident.”

Announced in May, the deal places Citizens into markets that the $188.4 billion-asset company has long coveted, including metropolitan New York, where 66 of the branches are located. In addition to physical locations, Citizens will scoop up about $2.2 billion in loans and $9 billion in deposits, including digital deposits that should bolster Citizens’ online-only bank, Citizens Access.

London-based HSBC decided to sell the majority of its retail branches in the United States in order to focus on wealth management opportunities. While most of its East Coast branches were sold to Citizens, 10 West Coast branches were acquired by Cathay Bank in Los Angeles.

The bank-branch acquisition is one of two bank deals that Citizens struck last year. In July, it said it would acquire Investors Bancorp in Short Hills, New Jersey, for $3.5 billion.

That acquisition is still expected to close early in the second quarter, Woods said Friday. Like other large pending bank deals — including M&T Bank’s planned $7.6 billion acquisition of People’s United Financial, which was initially expected to close last quarter — the Investors deal has yet to be approved by the Federal Reserve.

But Woods did not sound concerned about the timeline.

“There are some banks that are overdue for their approval,” Woods said. “We are not.”

In the meantime, Citizens is gearing up to introduce itself to the markets it is about to enter.

“We’re going to have a brand splash on that as you get out into 2022,” Woods said. “It’ll be fun to go through Manhattan and see Citizens…branches and billboards.”

It is also keeping its eyes open for opportunities to reel in more fee-based businesses, particularly in wealth management. Its most recent fee-business deal was announced in December when it said it would pay cash for New York-based DH Capital, a capital markets advisory firm specializing in the tech and communications sectors.

“Fee-based acquisitions are still in the mix,” Woods said. “We are not at scale in wealth and…we’ve been financially disciplined. We’ve got many opportunities to get to scale and/or to add to that platform.”

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