Despite two straight quarterly losses and what its chief executive called "one of the most difficult periods I've ever seen," KeyCorp is forging ahead with a far-reaching branch modernization and expansion plan.
Key is trying to position itself as a powerful "multiregional" banking company and is eyeing acquisitions in its four regions: the Northeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountain West, and Northwest.
"We continue to look for opportunities that could come along that would give us an opportunity to expand in our markets," Beth E. Mooney, the Cleveland company's vice chairman and head of community banking, said in an interview Friday after speaking to investors in Boston. "We are in a lot of market turmoil right now, but we are committed to expanding our franchise."
KeyCorp, which has completed about 10% of a five-year plan to renovate 650 of its nearly 1,000 branches, said it aims to refurbish its branches and speed up service with new technology, including equipment for tellers to process checks and other common customer forms faster.
"It is more than fresh paint, fresh carpeting; it is a rebranding of Key," Ms. Mooney said. KeyCorp also plans to open dozens of new branches. It has opened three so far this year — two in suburban New York and one in Cleveland — and plans to open 25 next year.
Andrew Marquardt, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller, wrote in a research note Tuesday that "there are clearly opportunities" for Key to attract new customers as a result of market disruptions in various parts of the country where some former top-tier companies have been acquired.
The $101 billion-asset company is looking next at growth markets in the West and Northwest, including Denver, Salt Lake City, Portland, and Seattle. A focus is on growing suburbs on the outskirts of these cities as well as in other, more mature markets such as Cleveland.
"You don't want to give up anything in the outer-ring suburbs where the population is moving," Ms. Mooney said.
Acquisitions in the West could play an important role in the growth plan. "We are really a multiregional bank," Ms. Mooney said, noting that two thirds of Key's community banking deposits are outside of the Midwest. It is "positioned in highly attractive markets across the country" and intends to solidify that position.
Ms. Mooney would not discuss possible targets but pointed to KeyCorp's $547 million acquisition in January of U.S.B. Holding Co. in Orangeburg, N.Y., as an example of the size of deal it favors.
U.S.B. was a $3 billion-asset holding company for Union State Bank, which had 31 branches in the New York City area. KeyCorp doubled its branch count in the metropolitan New York area to 62 with the acquisition.
Analysts said many of KeyCorp's branches are outdated and need to be renovated. But they also said that KeyCorp's desire to expand with new branches and acquisitions means it is betting that it is has the financial strength to weather the crisis and emerge as a bigger player in markets expected to grow when the economy improves.
Henry L. Meyer 3rd, KeyCorp's chairman and chief executive, said at a conference Wednesday in New York that the company is not selling credit cards or auto loans — business lines he called the new "epicenters of consumer credit issues" — as the economy contracts. Beyond its exposure to the weak housing market and struggling home builders, which it is aggressively winding down, Mr. Meyer said KeyCorp is on solid ground.
"I think we're going to come out of this with stronger performances than we did going in," he said.
Hurt by soured loans to home builders in its national banking division, KeyCorp posted its second straight quarterly loss last month. It lost $36 million in the third quarter and $1.13 billion in the previous quarter. An injection of $2.5 billion under the Treasury Department's Capital Purchase Program would lift KeyCorp's Tier 1 capital ratio above 10%, and, Ms. Mooney said, support its growth plans.
Analysts said KeyCorp had struggled in recent years to settle on a long-term plan, but they said that it emphasized a new commitment to community banking with its hiring of Ms. Mooney in April 2006 and that it appears to be sticking with that commitment. Ms. Mooney was the chief financial officer of AmSouth Bancorp in Birmingham, Ala., which was sold to Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham in 2006.
"I think for some years they underinvested in community banking, and now they have to upgrade, to modernize," said Anthony Davis, an analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. "Their community bank has to drive things, because their national banking business is under tremendous pressure right now. Having said that, I'm reasonably optimistic that Key has a good plan in place."