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HomeBanksEastern-Century deal could put Boston back on the banking map

Eastern-Century deal could put Boston back on the banking map

Now, even after Century is subsumed into Eastern this fall, Rivers would still have two-thirds of that pot to deploy, making him more of a player to watch on the Boston business scene.

“This really validates why we went public and raised the capital, to build scale,” Rivers said in an interview. “There was no way we could have done this deal as a mutual.”

Rivers said he expects to make more bank acquisitions, with the next target likely to be within Eastern Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire, or in neighboring regions, such as the Worcester area.

Eastern still won’t be anywhere near the size of FleetBoston Financial, the Boston banking behemoth created through the merger of several big regional banks during the 1990s that was eventually sold to Bank of America in 2004 for $47 billion.

But Eastern will be much bigger than any other locally based retail bank in the state. And with $22 billion in assets, it would be the third largest independent bank in New England, after Citizens and Webster. (One other large independent, People’s United, is in the process of being bought by M&T Bank of Buffalo.)

Boston has always been a banking center, but lost clout with the Fleet sale. While several key executives from Boston remain with Bank of America, most notably chief executive Brian Moynihan and vice chair Anne Finucane, the center of gravity for the huge national bank is far from here.

For much of the past decade, two Connecticut players — People’s United, out of Bridgeport, and Webster in Waterbury — were the largest independents in New England. Then Citizens Financial spun out of the Royal Bank of Scotland, creating a big independent bank in Providence. Meanwhile, Spanish giant Santander made Boston its US beachhead.

While Rivers won’t talk about how the deal with Century came about, Eastern and Century executives know each other well. They battle over the same business customers, and support some of the same charities. Rivers had even been a neighbor in Needham of Barry Sloane, who became chairman of Century after the death of his father, founder Marshall Sloane, in 2019. (Sloane is not expected to stay with Eastern after the deal closes and the Century name goes away.)

Closures of some bank branches are inevitable. Nearly all of Century’s 27 branches are within 3 miles of an Eastern branch; combined, the two banks have 116. Century, which is based in Medford, employs about 400 people, compared to 1,900 for Eastern, which has its headquarters in the Financial District. Eastern expects to reduce costs by $37 million a year from the combination, which indicates there could be job losses ahead.

The Century deal makes Eastern the biggest financier in the emerging marijuana industry, as the smaller bank embraced a sector that Eastern and most others had assiduously avoided. Meanwhile, Century customers will get access to broader wealth management and insurance services under Eastern.

Business customers will have a more muscular lending…

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