Some Fleet Bank customers are several mergers behind the times — they are still using up their United Jersey Bank checks, never mind getting checks from the now extinct Summit Bank. And now, of course, they are bracing for the takeover of Fleet by Bank of America. When one bank buys another bank, that’s a big issue for the customers: How long they can keep using their old checks, and will their account number change?

It’s up to the buying bank to keep its new customers happy. So when Yardville National Bancorp bought a First Savings Bank branch at 1225 Brunswick Avenue in Lawrence, it began an intensive transition process to keep its customers, inundating them with all kinds of information about their new bank.

"We are both community banks and we strive for the same things that Yardville does," says Nancy Graves, executive vice president and chief operating officer of First Savings Bank. "It’s a good match. Our customers have had a host of communications from Yardville, and they have been very satisfied with the transition."

First Savings, a subsidiary of First Sentinel Bancorp (Nasdaq: FSLA) is 102 years old and is about the same size as Yardville. First Savings employees 325 people in 22 branches, mostly in northern Jersey. In comparison, the 78-year-old Yardville National Bancorp has 20 branches in Mercer, Hunterdon, Burlington, Middlesex and Somerset counties in New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

"The Lawrence branch was really outside our footprint of our franchise," says Graves. She notes that First Savings acquired its southernmost branch when it bought Pulse several years ago, and the next closest branch is in Monroe. "It was difficult to leverage the strength. With a very dense population, people can go to other branches." Though the price was not disclosed, it is estimated at $2 million or five percent of the branch’s $40 million deposit base.

YNB came up with a list of questions and answers to help guide consumers through the transition process. "With all the recent merger activity occurring in the area, our Top Ten Questions will be a timely tool for any customer going through a banking acquisition or merger," says YNB CEO Patrick M. Ryan. Here is the list, with some of the answers paraphrased and reinterpreted.

Who is my new bank? Is it local, regional, national, and why is that important? Small banks, such as YNB, point out that a local bank invests in the community through charitable contributions, loans to area businesses, and good corporate level jobs as well as branch-level jobs.

Will my bank manager still be there? Most acquiring banks will try to maintain stability and keep the employees. The branch’s manager, Joseph E. Maguire, has been there since 1997 and will continue at the bank, along with the assistant manager, Suzanne Munnelly.

Will my account numbers change? This is the hassle question. Whether the numbers change depend on the system the bank is using. If the numbers change, you must get new checks and deposit slips, and change your automatic paycheck deposits and online bill payment services. When Summit was bought by Fleet, the account numbers stayed the same, but unfortunately for First Jersey customers, they will change. What will happen to Fleet customers when Fleet is taken over by Bank of America is anybody’s guess.

Will I need to order new checks? If the account number changes, sometimes you can use up the old checks. Though Yardville customers will need new ones, they receive not only a free starter set but also a free box of personalized checks.

Will I get a new ATM card? Yes, and the PIN number will change. Check your new ATM services and fees. "YNB provides `real time’ access to ATMs, with deposit and account information adjusted in real time so consumers can transfer and deposit funds with confidence," says a press release.

What access will I have to ATMs? YNB customers will have more area outlets for using their ATM card plus free access to the Star Network. Check to see where you can use their ATM card without paying additional fees.

What has changed on my accounts? Have the fees changed? Interest rates? At least a month before the change takes place you should get a booklet detailing changes. You may also want to meet with the manager to learn about better rates or program that the new bank will offer. Also check to see who will hold your loans, because sometimes loans and mortgages do not go with the branch sale.

What will my new bank’s hours be? YNB’s newest customers will find the doors open an extra couple of hours per week.

What new services should I be aware of? New for former First Savings customers is the ability to view check images online, so you can check balances faster and more efficiently. And because the bank is in a culturally diverse neighborhood YNB has multi-lingual tellers as well as ATM machines with multiple language options.

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