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Bank exec steps up for Rochester

When she was 4 years old, Suzanne Nasipak-Chapman’s mother would take her to the library and together they would volunteer to shelve books.

It was not the easiest work for a child just moving beyond the toddler years, but Nasipak-Chapma, 53,  says it instilled in her important traits that have followed her to work today as Rochester market executive for First Niagara Financial Group Inc.

“I grew up with that orientation to give back, and now I’m thrilled to be working with a company that gives so much back to the community,” she says.

First Niagara ranks No. 5 by market share in the Rochester Metropolitan Statistical Area with $1.2 billion and more than $1.3 billion for the six-county region.

Her duties include leading business initiatives across divisions and coordinating community development, philanthropic efforts and mentoring grants. She also serves as the regional director of First Niagara Risk Management Inc., overseeing close to 100 employees with more than 1,200 total clients.

Nasipak-Chapman started her career more than 25 years ago with Hatch Leonard Naples Inc., the largest insurance agency in Rochester at the time and among the largest in Buffalo and Syracuse.

In 2005 the company was acquired by First Niagara Risk Management, the wholly owned insurance subsidiary of First Niagara Bank.

“That was a job I started in my early 20s, and it was a great opportunity to grow with the firm and eventually I made partnership,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “They were approached many times to sell and said no, but when First Niagara came along it was the right offer and they said yes.”

After six years there was a shift within First Niagara locally. Patrick Burke, whose benefits consulting firm Burke Group Inc. had been bought by First Niagara in 2005, bought it back from the bank and left his position as First Niagara’s regional president.

Nasipak-Chapman, who at that point had been heading up the Brighton-based First Niagara Risk Management, received a call asking if she would be the bank’s market executive.

“This was a position that hadn’t even crossed my mind, but after (Burke) left I was surprised with a call asking if I would be the market executive,” she says.

She says she was excited to move into a position that serves as the face of the bank in the community while setting direction for the bank locally.

Nasipak-Chapman has a challenging job, says Craig Burton, First Niagara’s senior vice president of commercial real estate lending for the Central New York and Rochester areas.

“It’s remarkable to me the amount of energy and time she puts into this regional executive position, which is on top of her job as head of the insurance agency,” he says. Nasipak-Chapman is able to attend to these responsibilities while remaining even-handed in her approach, Burton says.

“When someone has a primary responsibility to manage a line of business but also needs to be the face of the bank as regional executive, you would think they emphasize more their line of business, but with Suzanne that’s not the case,” he says. “She is remarkably effective at fostering a unified approach among all lines of business, and it’s a balance that’s not easy to achieve when you think about all she has to do.”

Collaboration is an important part of her approach. Nasipak-Chapman acknowledges that she “didn’t grow up a banker” and says she often seeks input from others with more expertise.

“I have standing meetings, and if something comes up that has some significance or that we need to consider what it does across business units, I often go over to the banking side and ask how a decision might work for them,” she says.

This communication between different areas of the bank is especially important as First Niagara grows, she says.

“As First Niagara has grown and added to its product suite, what we’ve tried to do is be a good consultative partner for our customers, not just on banking but on cash management and all other areas where they might work with us,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “With that comes a need to help every business group understand what the others are doing and how it all ties together.’’

Nasipak-Chapman also has been involved in the bank’s strategic investment plan, a project centering largely on technology upgrades that will have a total cost of up to $250 million. Her role has been mostly in gathering feedback and learning from customers and the business community how the changes are affecting them and what areas might need improvement, she says.

“We have a lot of people saying it’s great and some saying it needs some more tweaks, but a lot of the plan is still rolling out,” Nasipak-Chapman says.

Changing times
The insurance side of the business already has undergone some changes, including an upgrade to a new information technology system that Nasipak-Chapman says makes it simpler and more efficient to file documents.

“All businesses are continuously challenged to be more efficient and work faster,” she says. “The world moves at such a fast pace that it’s stunning. I remember when I started I didn’t even have a PC, and now you can’t go anywhere without your phone coming with you.”

While technology may be ever-changing and evolving, Nasipak-Chapman says some parts of the financial industry will never change, including its need for a human touch.

This personal connection has grown in importance in light of other challenges facing the industry, she says.

“The desire to work with someone face-to-face is still there,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “In the financial services industry the interest rates have been challenging, so you have to work harder and smarter to make sure you’re connecting with customers.”

Nasipak-Chapman has seen a lot of change within the bank itself. When she joined a decade ago, she recalls that First Niagara Bank had five local bankers and six branches, but it has now grown to 300 local employees between the insurance and banking functions along with 20 retail branches.

She believes First Niagara has the opportunity to grow even more as Rochester’s economy continues to shift toward small businesses.

“There is a lot of opportunity for us to grow,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “This is a wonderful and innovative and stable community. It has suffered some change from the large corporations but it’s coming right back thanks to a group of wonderful entrepreneurs with great ideas, and it’s great that the bank gets to grow with them.”

First Niagara is in the midst of some projects aiming to boost the City of Rochester and spur economic development. In April the bank announced more than $28 million in financing for a pair of projects: $17.9 million to PathStone Corp. for the recently renovated Pinnacle Place apartments and $10.5 million for the Tower at Midtown.

“These tax credit projects are designed not only to help the city but the issue of better integrating neighborhoods so the poor aren’t segregated,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “It’s part of what we do every day that’s geared toward the community.”

She envisions First Niagara’s work in the city as fitting into larger efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and ultimately lead turnaround efforts.

“Rochester is on the cusp of some really cool stuff, and these are great opportunities for growth in the city,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “This is what makes our neighborhoods grow and be a place where we want to live and will anchor some of that comeback.”

Community connections
Keeping in touch with the community is an important aspect of Nasipak-Chapman’s work. As market executive she coordinates philanthropic and mentoring efforts, which focus largely on developing underserved areas in the city.

She oversees local implementation of the bank’s Mentoring Matters program, which gives monetary and volunteer support to mentoring organizations.

The program has helped to fund a partnership at the Rochester City School District’s World of Inquiry School No. 58, which puts First Niagara in contact with Monroe Community College to help students improve academic skill and readiness for college.

Nasipak-Chapman says she did not want the relationship to be simply First Niagara sending grant funding to World of Inquiry and hoping for the best.

 “I got to know the principal there and asked exactly what she needed to help be successful,” Nasipak-Chapman says. “We ended up partnering with St. John Fisher College, taking some of their staff and aspiring teachers to work with the kids for several days a week.”

Nasipak-Chapman has directed efforts to boost Rochester neighborhoods. In 2013 the bank donated a former branch on Joseph Avenue to the Lexington Avenue Federal Credit Union, including title to the property and all of the building’s contents.

The donation, which was valued at close to $200,000 in total, was meant to ensure the community had convenient access to financial services. First Niagara followed up the donation with a separate $10,000 grant to the Joseph Avenue Business Association to develop a strategy to revitalize the neighborhood.

Philanthropic efforts reach beyond neighborhood development and education, Nasipak-Chapman notes. First Niagara is the sponsor of Rochester’s annual Fringe Festival, a 10-day visual and performing arts event that highlights local and national artists working in emerging areas.

The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival has grown steadily, attracting 32,000 people in its first year in 2012 and growing to 60,000 last year. Within that time it has grown into one of the nation’s most successful fringe arts festivals, Nasipak-Chapman notes.

The festival’s unique nature helps draw in new audiences without competing with other arts and festival offerings, she says.

“We wanted to support something that was good for the city and good for downtown, something that everyone can attend and doesn’t pull people away from other festivals,” she says. “This reaches a really broad audience in terms of the kind of art and shows, with free events mixed in with some inexpensive events as well as higher-priced ones.”

Nasipak-Chapman’s vision and support of the festival has played a large role in its success, says festival producer Erica Fee.

“She broke the mold in terms of what you typically think of for someone who works for a bank and manages philanthropy,” Fee says. “She really got behind us from day one and knew we had something special and that it would be an interesting fit for First Niagara.

“We owe a lot to her because her belief in us helped raise other necessary funding and helped us become one of the largest multi-arts festival in the state and one of the largest fringe festivals in the country.”

Outside interests
Nasipak-Chapman has served on area non-profit boards, including Geva Theatre Center, Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc., Center for Governmental Research Inc. and Rochester Business Alliance Inc.

In her free time she enjoys outdoor activities, including swimming and hiking, and also keeps busy during winters by snowshoeing and skiing.

“I like to do knitting when I can,” she adds. “I really enjoy just generally making things.”

She spends time with her husband and three stepchildren at the family home in Mendon.

Personal connections motivate her at work as well. Though she oversees a number of high-level functions for First Niagara in Rochester, Nasipak-Chapman says her greatest enjoyment comes from the personal interactions she has with bank customers and employees.

“I really enjoy seeing our employees learn and grow and reach for their personal dreams,” she says. “And I still have a lot of contact with customers and get to see the things they’re making. It’s amazing what people can think of and invent, and getting to see that and help them grow is really what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Suzanne  Nasipak-Chapman
Position: Market executive for First Niagara Financial Group Inc. and regional director of First Niagara Risk Management Inc.
Age: 53
Education: B.A. in psychology, Boston College, 1984
Family: Husband Allan Chapman; stepdaughters Haley and Carly; stepson James
Residence: Mendon
Activities: Biking, hiking, snowshoeing, swimming, knitting
Quote: “I really enjoy seeing our employees learn and grow and reach for their personal dreams. And I still have a lot of contact with customers, and get to see the things they’re making. It’s amazing what people can think of and invent, and getting to see that and help them grow is really what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

5/29/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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