BankBoston now First Massachussetts Bank

Banknorth Group, Inc. completed its acquisition of the Berkshire County franchise of BankBoston on November 13. BankBoston’s Williamstown branch is one of the two local banks used by most Williams students. Ten Berkshire County branches, nine remote ATM machines, 115 managers and employees and the banks assets will become part of Banknorth’s First Massachusetts Bank.

Assets include $274.0 million in deposits and $108.8 million in loans, increasing the holdings of First Massachusetts bank to approximately $1.0 billion.

According to media correspondent Gary Schiff, the sale of BankBoston’s Berkshire County franchise to First Massachusetts bank makes sense in light of the trends of each bank. While Bank Boston aims to expand in to rapidly growing markets, the Banknorth group is primarily focused on meeting customer needs in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“The local management here decided that there were more growth opportunities for the Berkshire franchise with First Massachusetts than with BankBoston,” Schiff reported. “BankBoston is looking to invest and grow in high growth markets like Latin America. So it made sense for this franchise to be sold to another company.”

Schiff considers the transition a smooth one, especially for the employees. “All the employees working at [the Berkshire franchise of] BankBoston are now working for First Massachusetts,” he said. “It’s been a seamless transition. People seem universally pleased.”

The transition may not be as smooth for customers.

According to Schiff, customers shouldn’t have any problem with the shift. “There are some changes to products, but they’re all compatible products. There are changes in the names of some things, but we’ve tried to reduce the number of variables. The mechanics should be the same.”

Responses from student customers varied. Stephanie Pirishis ’02 does not mind the change but commented the transition could have been smoother.

“It’s gone relatively well – so far no hang-ups. It’s just the annoyance of transition when you get BankBoston statements and a First Massachusetts card at the same time. I know some people didn’t get their cards on time or are still waiting for their check books, but that’s normal. You can’t expect them to do everything at the same time.”

Pirishis, an international student, originally chose BankBoston because of its size.

“I wanted a bank that was somewhat bigger than Williamstown [Savings Bank], that worked outside of Williamstown,” said Pirishis, adding that it is too early to tell whether there will be any significant differences between the two banks.

Peter Krause ’02 chose BankBoston because of its locations both in Williamstown and in his hometown of West Hartford, Connecticut. Since Banknorth has purchased only the Berkshire franchise of BankBoston, Krause will now face the decision of whether to open a separate account at home or to pay foreign ATM fees while living in West Hartford.

“I was with BankBoston and I’m kind of wondering what to do because now I’ve lost the advantage of being able to use BankBoston here and at home,” Krause said. “I’m thinking of changing to Williamstown [Savings Bank] now that I don’t have the advantage of banking at home with BankBoston.

In addition, Krause complains that First Massachusetts charges checking fees that Williamstown Bank and BankBoston waive for students aged under nineteen years.

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