First Niagara Financial Group Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., has shifted its small-business banking focus away from individual branches to a newly created business unit that will be solely dedicated to attracting and retaining small-business customers.

The $33 billion-asset company said in a news release Tuesday that Ron Byers, who was previously an area sales manager in First Niagara’s Western Pennsylvania region, will lead the newly created unit, overseeing five team leaders and roughly 40 bankers in five geographic areas.

Small-business banking is not new to First Niagara, but until last month, relationships were typically managed by branch managers. Under the new structure, teams will work with clusters of branches in effort to accelerate small-business loan and deposit growth.  

Four of the team leaders were formerly area sales managers for First Niagara. Lena Prohaska will oversee a team of 10 bankers in Western New York; John Delgadillo will head a team of eight in New England; Izach Porter will oversee six bankers in Western Pennsylvania; and Ben Young will lead a team of seven in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The fifth team leader will be Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who is currently a senior relationship manager and commercial lender at HSBC Bank USA. She will lead a team of 10 bankers in Eastern New York.

“We are excited about the team we have assembled,” said First Niagara Retail Banking Director Scott Fisher in a news release. “Their strong backgrounds and passion for small business will enhance First Niagara’s capacity in this area."

First Niagara has roughly tripled its assets over the last two years with acquisitions in Pennsylvania and New England and is in the process of buying 195 HSBC branches in upstate New York and Connecticut. It expects the deal to close in May.The bank is also planning to open at least five new branches in Connecticut this year.

News of its small-business banking expansion was first reported by the Business Review of Albany, N.Y.

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