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First Financial nabbing new hub, closing 3 branches

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Cincinnati-based First Financial Bank is shuffling its operations in the Indianapolis area, including moving its regional hub to a new downtown location, opening a high-profile branch in the same building, and closing three branches on the city’s outskirts.

First has agreed to a 10-year lease on about 18,000 square feet of space on the 14th floor of the 300 N. Meridian office tower, to be occupied by executive, administrative and sales operations, said Indiana Banking President Kevin Langford.  First also will open a 1,500-square-foot branch in the building with prominent street-level and blade signage.

First’s presence in 300 N. Meridian will take the place of its current hub and branch at 433 N. Capitol Ave., where it leased about 9,000 square feet of office space and operated a smaller branch.

“This allows us to expand and also take advantage of some branding on the building,” Langford said Monday. Employees will make the move in late summer, about the same time the new branch opens.

On Sept. 29, First plans to close its branches at 5640 E. 71st St., 5004 W. 71st St. and 6925 S. Emerson Ave. Clients for those branches received notice in June that the centers would close and that services would be transferred to nearby locations.

“These were our least busy branches or those that had lesser deposits,” Langford said.

The three closures would leave First with 12 branches in the Indianapolis area. About 15 employees work at the three branches, Langford said. Although some could be laid off, the bank hopes to place most of them at other locations in the area, he said.

Early this spring, First Financial ranked as the 14th-largest bank in the Indianapolis area, in terms of local workers. It reported 116 full-time employees in response to an IBJ questionnaire.

First entered the Indianapolis market in 2008. In 2011, it acquired Flagstar Bank’s 22 Indiana locations, 18 of which were in the Indianapolis area.

Branch closures now are common for most banks, as many customers switch to mobile and online banking.

First Financial plans to experiment with automated banking by redesigning its current branch at 1 N. Pennsylvania St. as an “electronic services center.” With fewer, if any, live associates at the branch, the bank would be able to stay open longer hours.

“We’re essentially exploring changing consumer behavior,” Langford said. “We’re looking to make the experience very quick.”

First also plans to move its current branch in Avon to a nearby location at 9554 E. U.S. 36, allowing it to put into use a prototype that focuses on a full complement of services, as well as an energy-efficient design.

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