Effective March 15, all East Penn Banks and Harleysville branches officially become part of First Niagara.

The conversion is the result of the merger of Harleysville National Corporation, headquartered in Harleysville, Montgomery County, with First Niagara Bank, headquartered in Lockport, N.Y., which is a suburb of Buffalo.

Harleysville National Corporation sustained a net loss of $219.5 million in 2009.

In comparison, First Niagara's portfolio shows operating net income at over $100 million for the year, an 18 percent increase from 2008.

Harleysville is the parent company of East Penn and Harleysville banks. First Niagara has assured that no branches of East Penn or Harleysville will be closed as the result of the merger.

The New York bank also said it intends to retain all 1,100 employees of Harleysville and East Penn.

East Penn Bank has branches in Mahoning Township, Palmerton, Summit Hill, Lansford, Slatington, and Lehigh Township, Northampton County.

First Niagara, which presently serves Upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania, acquired Harleysville National Corporation in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $237 million.

The acquisition provides First Niagara with $5.6 billion in assets including $3.6 billion in loans and $4.1 billion in deposits in 83 branches across nine Eastern Pa. counties.

At one time, just a couple of years ago, Harleysville was sitting atop the financing market and boasted of large profits.

It's financial hardship is blamed on the collapse of the central Montgomery County building boom.

By selling the bank, Harleysville National avoided a potential federal takeover.

The acquisition of Harleysville by First Niagara is still subject to federal regulatory approval, although this appears to be a mere formality.

It has been approved overwhelmingly by the shareholders of both banks.

The merger with a Philadelphia-area regional banking company allows First Niagara to increase its assets by 50 percent and expand into one of the nation's largest metropolitan areas.

Harleysville had enjoyed a steady flow of growth for the past 20 years. Initially it acquired Citizens National Bank in Lansford in the summer of 1990.

A year later, it purchased the former Summit Hill Trust Company.

It continued on a roll, acquiring Security National Bank, Farmers and Merchants Bank, Northern Lehigh Bancorp, Citizens Bank & Trust Company in Palmerton, Millennium Bank, East Penn Financial Corporation, and, in May of 2008 bought Willow Financial Bancorp.

It was just about two years ago that Harleysville announced all its branches in Carbon County and most in Lehigh county would be changed from Harleysville to East Penn after it acquired East Penn Financial Corporation.

In a letter to its new customers, First Niagara states, "While the name may be new to you, First Niagara has been serving upstate New York communities for almost 140 years and has established a longstanding reputation for exceptional service combined with a comprehensive range of products."