Earnings season is here once again. We're only a few days in, but we have already seen some impressive numbers from banking behemoths JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup, with Bank of America releasing earnings yesterday. While these results are important to those of us that follow the banking sector, my interest lies in some of the smaller banks beyond the behemoths.

With that in mind, I turn my attention to a regional bank that will be reporting earnings Friday. Here are some things I will be watching when it comes to the First Niagara Financial Group (NASDAQ: FNFG).

What the Street thinks
The majority of analysts are expecting an increase in revenue and a decrease in earnings from the same quarter last year, with $366 million in revenue and $0.18 in earnings per share. The past few months have seen some of the bank's directors spending some money on shares of the company, pointing to their optimism that the bank should continue its performance going forward. Only time will tell if their assumption is correct.

Integration of new branches
First Niagara acquired nearly 200 branches from HSBC (NYSE:HSBC) during the second quarter this year, and though it was required to immediately sell 110 branches to KeyCorp (NYSE:KEY), these branches helped expand the banks operations outside of its upstate New York home. It should start to see an increase to many key metrics, including total deposits, further strengthening the bank going forward.

What else to expect
First Niagara recently cut its dividend, but it is still yielding around 4%. Unfortunately, the bank diluted shareholders by issuing additional shares in order to complete the HSBC branch acquisition, so hopefully we will see a fairly aggressive share repurchase plan coming in the next couple of quarters. Failing that, continued improvement in the balance sheet would be a welcome sight, setting the bank up for further success down the road.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.