Chase Veteran Leads Push For Connecticut Customers

After 20 years with Chase Manhattan Corp., Hermes Ames is preparing to help usher the company into a new era of interstate banking.

Mr. Ames, who had been president of Chase's Syracuse, N.Y., division, last month was named president and chief executive officer of Chase Manhattan Bank of Connecticut. The bank was created when Chase Manhattan Corp. acquired two failed Bridgeport banks from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Moving into New England

The purchase represents Chase's first retail foray into the affluent Connecticut market and may serve as a stepping-stone into other parts of the region.

On the day the Connecticut banks were seized, "we came in right behind the FDIC," said Mr. Ames, 45.

"The long-term prospects for New England are outstanding, we think," he said in a recent interview.

A Solid Beachhead

Chase, he said, will build on its initial Connecticut base of $2.5 billion in deposits, $2.2 billion in assets, and 67 branches. Chase already had more than 230,000 credit card and line-of-credit customers in the state and handles the accounts of numerous daily commuters into New York City.

Mr. Ames said Chase's aim is "basically to grow the [Connecticut] business." But it will not be entirely smooth sailing, thanks to "lots of bad loans that we have to work through." Chase Connecticut is creating a "bad bank" subsidiary to deal with problem assets, which could eventually be returned to the government.

And as Chase Connecticut reduced its acquired banks' interest rates over the past month to regional norms, it lost $200 million in brokered deposits.

Mr. Ames must decide which of the branches from Citytrust Bancorp and the Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank to keep, and how many of their 1,300 employees to eliminate.

Those workers have been through "a very trying time," he said. "We really sympathized."

The employees, who were taken on the Chase payroll temporarily after the seizure, received letters last week telling them whether they would be retained. Mr. Ames said most were asked to stay, including all 410 branch staff members and 80 workout employees.

"He's taken on a very tough assignment," said Erwin Schultz, president of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce. He called Mr. Ames - a director of the chamber, the local hospital, the symphony, and other civic groups - "a good corporate citizen."

Ready for Move

Mr. Ames, a native of Jamestown, N.Y., started his career at Chase in 1972 after leaving St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y.

He spent years moving around Chase's upstate New York franchise - in the branch system, in corporate finance, and at the regional executive level. The moves culminated in the regional presidency, in which he oversaw wholesale banking in Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, and northern New York.

After years on the move, he said, his family is willing to give Connecticut a chance. "I see this as a long-term move and that was one of the attractive things about it."

"He's a good manager. He's done well for us here," said Stephen Herz, a senior vice president at Chase Lincoln First Bank, the upstate subsidiary based in Rochester. "I think he'll do great in Connecticut."

Leading a 150-member transition team in Connecticut, Mr. Ames has named other career Chase bankers to key posts: George Burton, chief credit officer, Erich Augustin, chief financial officer, Charles Pignatelli, head of the retail network, William Dickinson, head of corporate banking; and Patrick McGrath, leading small-business lending.

Some Business in Place

Mr. Ames reports to Donald Boudreau, Chase Manhattan Corp.'s regional banking executive.

In addition to the credit relationships Chase had with Connecticut residents before the acquisitions, the bank also had consumer relationships through its private banking, personal financial services, and business banking groups.

The company wants to expand in the area, particularly among middle-market business customers. Before starting a marketing campaign to win new accounts, Mr. Ames said, he will encourage bank officers to seek multiple relationships with existing clients and to woo back customers who left the failed institutions.

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