Associated Buying into N. Illinois

Article excerpt

Associated Banc-Corp's president and chief executive, Paul S. Beideman, is following through on his stated desire to expand the Green Bay, Wis., company through acquisitions in current and adjacent markets.

On Monday, Associated an-nounced that it plans to buy the $1.5 billion-asset State Financial Services Corp. of Milwaukee for $278 million in stock. The deal is Mr. Beideman's second for a banking company since he took the helm at Associated nearly two years ago.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Beideman said that the deal for State Financial, which has 29 branches in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, would increase Associated's already-large operations in Milwaukee and bring it into northern Illinois.

"It allows us an entry into some very attractive markets" with minimal branch office overlap, he said.

The deal is expected to close at the start of the fourth quarter. Mr. Beideman said that once it closes he would be interested in expanding into adjacent markets, such as St. Louis or east of Chicago, "if the right opportunity were to come along."

He also plans to scout deals in insurance and wealth management, as well as banking. However, "you can't be precise about the timing of opportunities," he said.

Buying State Financial would give Associated an opportunity to build branches in its new markets. Mr. Beideman would not say just how big his company could get, but it has more than doubled its assets since 1999, to $21 billion.

Associated was acquisitive in the 1990s, and Mr. Beideman has completed one sizable acquisition since joining it in April 2003 from Mellon Financial Corp.; Associated bought the $3.7 billion-asset First Federal Financial Corp. of La Crosse, Wis., in October 2004. That purchase gave Associated additional expertise in home equity lending, and the State Financial deal would increase its commercial banking operations, he said.

State Financial's narrow focus on commercial lending and commercial real estate lending would let Associated expand its capabilities in those sectors, he said on a conference call with investors Tuesday morning. …