Northwest

Northwest Bank in New Bethlehem today.

NEW BETHLEHEM – Northwest Bank announced last week that it will close its New Bethlehem branch in mid-December.

Word began to spread through the community last Wednesday as Northwest customers received letters in the mail about the closure.

Officials with the Warren-based company said that the New Bethlehem branch is one of 42 full-service offices, along with one drive through location and a business office, that Northwest plans to shutter the week of Dec. 14. The closures are planned across the company’s multi-state footprint, and no other bank branches are being closed in the area.

“Over the past ten years, significant enhancements in technology have dramatically changed customer preferences, behavior and expectations,” according to a prepared statement from Northwest. “These shifts span not just our own financial services industry, but almost every other facet of our lives as we all seek the ability to research, purchase, connect and transact with the tap of a button.

“In the spring, our desire for convenience through technology became a need when the outbreak of COVID-19 forced the closure of bank retail branches around the world, including our own. During this time, customer reliance on digital channels like online and mobile banking and our network of ATMs increased — which also increased the level of comfort our customers have in using and expecting more from these channels.

“To keep up with this ever-evolving trend and to provide our customers with greater access, convenience, control and flexibility, Northwest continues to invest heavily in alternative channels like online and mobile banking. In 2021, we will release enhancements to our digital experience, including improvements in account opening, person-to-person digital payments, budgeting tools, account alerts and card controls.

“Because our customers are choosing to use more convenient ways to interact with our bank, retail network traffic and transaction volumes continue to drop. This movement led us to evaluate our retail network.”

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The company currently operates 205 full-service offices and eight free-standing drive through locations across Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Indiana.

The company noted that the offices being closed are likely close to other Northwest branches. In the local case, Northwest will continue to operate branches in Rimersburg and Clarion.

“Customers of these offices will have no interruption of service,” the company said. “The terms and conditions of their accounts will remain the same, and they will continue to have free access to their accounts through online and mobile banking, our free ATM network, automated telephone banking and live service through our contact center and remaining retail network.”

When asked, the company was not forthcoming with the number of people currently employed at the New Bethlehem branch, but stated that, “Working closely with region management, we assessed open positions across our retail network. Some employees will be reassigned to nearby offices but others, unfortunately, will not be retained and will be offered a severance package for their years of dedicated service.”

A company spokesperson said on Tuesday that because the building is “one of the more historic properties in the region,” the company would be interested in donating it to a community organization.

Opened in 1940, the bank has been a local landmark known for its tall bell tower, its ornate high-ceiling lobby area and the imposing vintage walk-in vault. The lower level of the building, once used by a number of community organizations, is home to Little Bird Preschool.

Located on the corner of Broad and Lafayette streets, the building was the third and final home of the First National Bank in New Bethlehem. It became a First Seneca Bank in the 1970s, and later became part of the Pittsburgh-based Integra before its acquisition by Northwest Savings Bank of Warren.

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