Md. banker hired by First Fidelity


First Fidelity Bancorp., the New Jersey-based bank preparing to reach mammoth status through a $5.4 billion merger with First Union Corp., has hired a local banking executive to lead its commercial lending efforts in Maryland.

J. Scott Wilfong, a senior official with First Maryland Bancorp, will become an executive vice president at First Fidelity July 24. In that role, he will direct the $35.3 billion banking company's efforts to improve its business lending base. First Fidelity currently commands less than 10 percent of the region's commercial lending.

By the end of the year, First Fidelity -- which has spent $422 million to acquire Baltimore Bancorp and Household Bank FSB in an attempt to fashion a local presence -- and First Union intend to merge, creating the nation's sixth-largest bank with $124 billion in assets and more than 10 million customers in 13 states.

"First Union has a vision and will have large resources to commit to this market," said Mr. Wilfong, 45. "My job will be to increase market share and bring to Baltimore the innovations First Union has available to commercial customers."

Chief among those innovations are First Union's ability to create securities and private placements of debt, he said.

The combination will also be the genesis of a powerful force in Baltimore banking, with 94 Maryland branches and $5 billion in deposits. After the merger, the First Fidelity/First Union bank will be the third-largest in Baltimore, with roughly 10 percent of deposits. By comparison, NationsBank has 20 percent of the market, while First Maryland has about 12 percent.

But on the lending side, First Fidelity's outstanding commercial loan balance is $125 million, a scant percentage of NationsBank's and First Maryland's.

Mr. Wilfong's departure from competitor First Maryland marks the latest in a series of moves by key banking officials dovetailing with the industry's consolidation in Baltimore. First Maryland, for instance, has succeeded in luring dozens of well-known executives from NationsBank in the wake of the Charlotte-based conglomerate's purchase of MNC Financial Inc.

Most recently, speculation has arisen that NationsBank placed Susan C. Keating, one of its top Maryland executives, on "indefinite administrative leave" because of employment discussions with First Maryland.

Mr. Wilfong had spent the past 15 years at First Maryland, the parent to the First National Bank of Maryland and a subsidiary of Allied-Irish Banks PLC, and most recently he oversaw its commercial lending division.

At First Fidelity, Mr. Wilfong joins a team of new hires from competitors that include First Maryland, Signet Banking Corp. and Columbia First Bank. First Fidelity management believes the new executives -- including Maryland's former Department of Economic and Employment Development Secretary Mark L. Wasserman -- provide local expertise and valuable existing relationships.

"We believe the local market needs to be served by local #F people," said Joseph A. Cicero, president and chief operating officer of First Fidelity Bank N.A. and Mr. Wilfong's first boss at the former Equitable Bank in the early 1970s.

"Scott has an excellent reputation in Baltimore with bank executives and, more importantly, with customers," he said.

First Maryland executives did not return telephone calls for comment regarding the departure of Mr. Wilfong.

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