WEST MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Guardian Credit Union and Prime Financial Credit Union announced plans to merge and together will create the largest geographic presence in the Milwaukee area.
According to Guardian CEO Steve Wesson merger talks between the $290 million Guardian and the $201 million Prime Financial began after the two credit unions started looking at land in the same area.
"We were looking at the same area and realized that none of our other branches were located in the same area. We realized that our branch locations complement each other and geographically for members a merger made sense," said Wesson.
Wesson said that both credit unions are well-capitalized. When they looked at the locations, the possible increase in volume and the idea of operating under one computer system, there were too many positive factors not to merge.
Prime Financial CEO Rich Koenig said competition, particularly in the surrounding area and an increase in competitors' influence in the Milwaukee-area, was one of the reasons he considered the merger.
"We just had such a perfect match. Our credit unions offer the same products and operate in the same way and for seven years we managed to have branches that are away from each other," Koenig said. "But what really nailed it for me was the opportunity for employees."
Due to the increase in branches and volume Koenig said that they will probably have to increase staff. Prime Financial currently has seven branches in Milwaukee County, one branch in Waukesha County and one branch in Manitowoc County. Guardian currently has four branches in Milwaukee County, two branches in Waukesha County and one branch in Racine.
The combined credit union will have $491 million in assets and 82,000 members. The new credit union will be named Guardian Credit Union and will adopt Prime Financial's expanded charter. Wesson will head the new credit union as CEO and Koenig will be president of the new credit union's service organization operations.
With the merger of two same-size organizations, Koenig said that in his new role he will be concerned with keeping employees and members and play a big role in working with CUSOs. With 26 years experience in the industry, Koenig said he has developed relationships within the credit union and externally with members and vendors. Looking ahead he will be playing a strategic role in the development of the new credit union.
"The new role is exciting and will be a new breath of fresh air. Steve is aggressive and we think the same way. He's giving me a lot of free reign to do what I'm good at," Koenig said.
Wesson said that one of the immediate effects of the merger will be on the CUSO side. He said that they will be looking at what other product offerings the credit union can provide, including through two or three CUSOs.
Other results Wesson said will be combined efficiencies, specifically with converting to one computer system, having more income available to return to members and to expand some of the branches.
To transition the two credit unions through the merger, Wesson said that he will make sure everyone, members and employees, are well-informed. He will present the new combined management to the employees and work on combining departments, some more easily than others.
"Milwaukee is a very competitive banking market. We want to make sure our member service levels are maintained and increased and that we work hard to offer the most attractive rates. This merger will be the best of both worlds in this tough economy," Wesson said.
Koenig said that out of the five mergers he's been through at Prime Financial, this one has been a pleasure. He also said that one of the benefits of the merger will be the benefit of having two boards come together into one, more diverse board.
A meeting of Guardian members will be held soon where members will hear from representatives from both credit unions and vote on the merger. If the merger goes through, both Wesson and Koenig said that they anticipate the merger will be effective this December and aim to merge computer platforms starting at the end of March and finished by May.