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By Chelsey Levingston

Staff Writer

CINCINNATI —

First Financial Bancorp announced Friday plans to acquire Columbus-area Insight Bank, First Financial’s second acquisition in the Columbus market announced this week.

Cincinnati-based First Financial and Insight, a single-branch bank in Worthington, signed a definitive merger agreement. The cash and stock deal is valued at $36.6 million, pending regulatory and shareholder approvals.

Insight, founded in 2006, also has a mortgage origination office in Newark that is part of the deal, bank officials said.

“The Insight bank acquisition that we announced today is just a further extension of our Columbus strategy,” Claude Davis, chief executive officer and chairman of First Financial, said Friday. “We’ll retain all of the locations that we’ll be buying and we’ll be looking to add additional locations in Columbus.”

Prior to this week, First Financial did not have a presence in central Ohio.

On Wednesday, First Financial announced plans to enter the Columbus market with the acquisition of The First Bexley Bank for $44.5 million. The Cincinnati-Dayton corridor and Columbus are the two most attractive markets in Ohio, Davis said.

“Both of the deals that we announced this week, first of all introduce outstanding growth opportunities in the future for our shareholders and both begin to make money for us immediately,” Davis told this news outlet. “Both are successful, profitable institutions.”

The Insight and First Bexley transactions are expected to close during the first half of 2014. In the meantime, First Financial leaders will be making introductions with the Columbus-area banks’ clients and shareholders, as well as business leaders in the community, Davis said.

There are no immediate plans for more acquisitions, he said.

However, “long-term as part of our Columbus strategy, whether it’s Cincinnati or Indianapolis, we would certainly be open to additional acquisition in the Columbus market if the right one presents itself,” he said. “If it doesn’t, we feel good with the Bexley and Insight deals, growing with those two as the base in the Columbus market.”

First Financial, with $6.3 billion in assets, has a footprint covering Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.


FIRST FINANCIAL BANCORP ACQUISITION HISTORY

2009: Completed Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-assisted acquisitions of Peoples Community Bank, Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co., and Irwin Union Bank F.S.B., significantly increasing its presence in greater Cincinnati and southern Indiana Those purchases doubled First Financial’s assets from approximately $3 billion in 2008 to more than $6 billion by 2010.

2011: Completed acquisition of Liberty Savings Bank branches in the Dayton area, increasing its presence in the Dayton market. Also completed acquisition of Flagstar Bank branches in Indiana, significantly bolstering its presence in the Indianapolis market.

2013: First Financial announced Dec. 18 plans to acquire The First Bexley Bank, a single-branch bank in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, Ohio. Through the acquisition, pending approval, First Financial will enter the Columbus market. The same week on Dec. 20, plans were announced to also acquire Insight Bank, a single-branch bank in the Columbus suburb of Worthington.

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