JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There is a new association in credit unionland and credit unions serving the health care industry couldn't be happier.
"It has been 15 years or more in the making," said HealthAmerica Credit Union CEO Maury Pilver. "That is how long I've been thinking about this concept--the interest from credit unions in the United States and in Canada has always been positive but there was always the challenge of finding the time to start it."
Pilver adds that while everyone agreed it was a great idea there were no volunteers to help make it a reality until John Saatela, CEO of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Tenet Federal Credit Union stepped in.
"We met about a year and a half ago and over breakfast got to talking about the benefit other associations of credit unions provided their members by speaking to like challenges and issues and John is the primary reason this association became a reality," said Pilver. "So many of our health care credit unions are smaller credit unions located in the back of hospitals and they are struggling--this association is a way for all of us to talk to our peers about solutions."
Saatela sent mailings to all health care credit unions nationwide numbering some 400 and those in Canada to generate excitement about the new Association of Health Care Credit Unions.
It recently kicked off its three-day inaugural meeting at the Sawgrass Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Attendees, all of who became charter members, from Canada and 17 U.S. states, coast to coast, took the opportunity to exchange ideas and share solutions to issues they encounter everyday.
"Healthcare is the single most important and costly thing Americans are facing now. As healthcare costs increase exponentially companies are cutting back on health care facilities and scaling back watching their expenses," said Pilver. "Healthcare credit union sponsors across the country are concerned about the bottom line and are really looking at what the credit union contributes to the organization and some sponsors are asking credit unions to either look for a new branch location or asking them to now pay for the space they've had provided to them for years. For a small credit union with less than $20 million in assets and a limited budget that can be devastating."
Pilver says serving a like health care field of membership, in most cases, the attendees' credit union asset sizes were much more similar to one another than any of the numerous other credit union conferences held throughout the year. To encourage participation, tight control was maintained on costs and registration fees were just $395.
He adds that the meeting agenda covered critical issues, from the new Bankruptcy Law, the Bank Secrecy Act, disaster planning and pandemic planning to changes in health care. Speakers were tapped from across industry lines, including CU-related firms, corporates, and health care.
One of the more popular sessions entitled The banks aren't the only ones who want your members included a panel of health care CUs discussing how to counter the impact of competition from larger community credit unions.
"Every one of the association members has large credit unions right in town that have a community charter making for even tougher competition. Regardless of size the issues are pretty much the same and we have to pay attention to the financial position of hospital sponsors and show that we are partners in providing a valuable service to their employees," said Pilver. "The information exchanged during the conference has been so important and helpful that an amazing 100% of attendees surveyed indicated they would attend the next AHCU meeting."
Looking ahead Pilver and Saatela are focusing on spreading the word and with an additional 30-40 people joining since the meeting; the association is now some 100 members strong. In addition to networking opportunities and conferences, membership includes access to the AHCU Forum, which is a listserv where members can share experiences and ideas and find solutions to resolve issues in a timely manner.
Pilver says he'd like to have some 200 members by next year's conference.
"As credit unions serving healthcare employees are continually impacted by the significant changes in both credit unions and healthcare, the event provided a degree of optimism about how successful our credit unions can be when they work together," said Saatela.