PASADENA, Calif. -- The $3.5 billion Wescom Credit Union has decided to go into the market for credit union card portfolios even though its original idea of purchasing an industrial loan corporation fell through.
The credit union applied for, and received, approval from state regulators to change its charter to that of a central credit union. Darren Williams, CEO of Wescom, said the charter change allows the CU to serve members of other CUs that are in effect, referred to it by their own institutions. It will allow Wescom to buy the card portfolios of other CUs and manage the accounts in agent relationships, he said.
Wescom previously had been part of a planned purchase of an ILC, which federal regulators never did approve and seemed unlikely to ever get approval. Williams said PSCU Financial Services, Wescom's partner in the ILC attempt, would remain integral to its portfolio purchases as well, providing the back office servicing of the accounts as well as its popular rewards program.
Williams said that Wescom was currently in negotiations for the purchase of its first card portfolio.
He expressed confidence in Wescom's ability to purchase and manage the card portfolios, noting that Wescom has had a strong card program for years and that the CU had plenty of capital with which to make the buys.
"Before I came into the credit union, I worked in cards," Williams said, "So I am very familiar with the card industry. In addition we have never had any trouble with capital to make credit card loans. Credit cards are a core product for us, we have a very strong card program already."
Williams said that Wescom's current portfolio has about $150 million in outstandings and that it has beefed up its card management staff to 20, several of whom have previous card experience, to handle the growth. He estimated that Wescom has 20% member penetration and three years of 20% growth.
Williams said he looked forward to providing credit unions with another credit union-friendly alternative for their portfolio sale. Currently TNB Card Services, the wholly-owned subsidiary of credit union-owned Town North Bank, is the only credit union-owned purchaser for credit union card portfolios.
"I think it's good we bring some additional choices to the marketplace," Williams said, speaking of credit union-owned card portfolio purchasers. "I think there are likely more than a few credit unions out there who might have made the decision to sell the portfolio but have held off because they just couldn't find the partner with whom they felt really comfortable. We hope Wescom can be that partner."
Scott Wagner, executive vice president with TNB, said that the Wescom move confirms what the credit union-owned firm already knew--that the market for credit union card portfolios is very competitive and there are more than a few CUs that are looking for a credit union alternative to selling their portfolios to a bank. "We see credit unions that run the gambit from those that just want to sell at the highest price to those who want to sell to move their resources into something they do better, but they want to keep the portfolios in the movement," he said. He also said that the Wescom announcement made it clear that there is a market for credit card portfolio purchasers that are not going to manage their card portfolios with the same sorts of techniques, such as penalty interest rates and higher fees, that banks use. --firstname.lastname@example.org