KENOSHA, Wis. -- While AM Community Credit Union has offered business loans since 1999, the ongoing grip on capital and credit access of late has played a part in helping to boost the financial institution's business lending program.
Kenosha, Wisconsin's fourth largest city, is situated on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. The city has garnered a number of top rankings including being among the best places to live by Money magazine, best place to raise a family by Reader's Digest and "hottest midsize cities" by Inc. Magazine.
The Midwestern enclave proved to be untapped business lending territory for $107 million AMCCU, which got its first exposure through members seeking out investment and rental properties, said Brian Jaffe, chief operating officer. Soon after, the demand for a plethora of financing grew. From restaurants and independent truck drivers to daycare centers and a company that makes drills for elevators, AMCCU has sought to appeal to the diverse needs of it members.
"What's happening now is more people are coming to the credit union because of the credit crunch," Jaffe said. "There are less financial players willing to offer the financing."
In addition to business loans, the credit union started offering business checking and saving accounts in March 2007. Jaffe said the newest products are still getting off the ground with a handful of accounts opening each month. There are approximately 72 business and participation loans in the portfolio totaling $9 million.
Dangerously close to its member business lending cap of $1.8 million per member, AMCCU partnered with Business Lending Services LLC to offer participation loans to not only help spread the risk but to provide members with the larger loans they were asking for. BLS, a joint venture between Business Lending Group and Corporate Central CU, serves nine Wisconsin credit unions.
"In 2006 and 2007, we were approaching 100% loaned out," Jaffe said. "When you're in the 90% range, it's going to be difficult to continue serving members. Because the credit union is growing in assets and share size, we can now do more."
The reasons to partner with a CUSO rather than develop a business lending program in-house echoed ones often heard throughout the industry: not having the appropriately experienced staff and not having enough money to hire someone full-time.
"Based on NCUA regulatory requirements, we didn't have the experience," Jaffe said. "It seemed like a prime opportunity for us--to make loans we couldn't make before" without having to incur the costs to build a program from scratch.
Jaffe said the credit union felt strongly about having an alliance with a local CUSO that knew the area's marketplace. BLS conducts weekly meetings with its clients so that representatives can share experiences and approaches. The biggest challenge, BLS President Steve Grebe said, is initially defining the relationship between the CUSO and credit unions but open communication lines have helped to iron out any overlap.
Those exchanges ultimately help drum up more relationships. The credit union is currently working with a member on a 16-unit property with financing in the pipeline for a gas station and a medical center. Most transactions, however, come from sole proprietors with small outfits, Jaffe pointed out. The exception would be a long-time member with seven participation loans totaling more than $12 million, said Grebe.
"The focus is we want to be able to serve members," Grebe said. "Historically, when they came to us for commercial loans, we would say 'we don't provide them.' Now, we want to be able to have a presence and meet the borrowing needs of members."
As lenders continue to tighten their credit standards for financing, the effects have spilled over to the deposit side, too, Jaffe said.
"People are hunkering down and holding onto their money," he noticed.
Grebe said the strongest borrowers probably have the greatest edge because lenders are competing for their business. A former banker, Grebe said he is in awe of the credit union's industry focus on placing service--not profitability--first.
Looking ahead, Jaffe said AMCCU just finalized marketing materials that will go out to area businesses. The majority of the credit union's business lending and service members had prior relationships with AMCCU.
"This year, we want to cultivate," Jaffe said of AMCCU's outreach plans. "We want to get the tellers acclimated. All of this is to make the area's small businesses aware of what we have to offer."