According to the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, KeyCorp is close to finalizing a deal to buy Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group. KeyCorp, a Cleveland-based financial services giant, is rumored to be willing to pay almost $4 billion for First Niagara (close to its market value). Employees today were dealing with a flurry of texts, emails and phone calls from concerned customers, friends and family members say sources inside the bank. In other news today, New York Community Bancorp announced a deal to purchase Astoria Financial for $2 billion. Recent merger and acquisition announcements may signal the beginning of a return to bank merger activity which, until the second half of 2015, had slowed to a virtual standstill. First Niagara shares were up 3.5% percent in after-hours trading on the news. More detail and perhaps an official announcement is expected as soon as Friday.