Saddled with pressures to reduce operating expenses, California and Nevada credit unions had been seeking an outlet to help minimize costs through a collaborative network.
That was 2008, when the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues conducted a member survey and received an overwhelming response for greater cooperation and collaboration, said Lucy Ito, league senior vice president of credit union growth and development. After the creation of an ad hoc committee to explore solutions, 10 credit unions came together to launch CURoots Cooperative, a CUSO that will provide back-office services. Ito will serve as CEO of the new entity.
"Credit unions' balance sheets and income statements have been battered by the fallout of the financial crisis and the extended economic recovery," Ito said. "More than ever before, credit unions are feeling pressure to reduce operating expenses. Only through collaboration can credit unions even begin to approach the degree of scale that our banking competitors enjoy."
On-site compliance services will be the first to roll out through CURoots in January. Ito said multiple credit unions in a local geographic area will share a compliance officer and have access to other compliance officers with specialized skills. The CURoots board is set to hold a strategic planning session to identify other services and establish priorities and critical principles, but the actual service to be offered next will be based on feedback from members and potential members. Ito is scheduled to do a presentation on CURoots at the CCUL/NCUL's upcoming annual convention. Perez said.
CURoots is open to all credit unions, credit union trade associations, and CUSOs across the country. To join, the cost is $20,000 for one share with one share per member, Ito said. Pricing of specific services will be determined by the service and how much a given entity utilizes CURoots, among other considerations.
"CURoots is open to credit unions of all sizes, but small and mid-sized credit unions are especially challenged with gaining scale and realizing efficiencies," Ito said. "I would agree that those who point out that even large credit unions are challenged especially in comparison to banking competitors."
The biggest difference between CURoots and other CUSOs is its structure and vision as a true cooperative, Ito explained. Most CUSOs serve their credit unions with earnings accruing to a group of credit union owners or to the CUSO itself, as a separate entity with its own unique business objectives, she added. The success of CURoots will be measured by how effectively it reduces back-office operational costs for credit unions or maximizes the value they receive.
"The model is patterned along the same lines as natural person credit unions that give member-consumers the best value by reducing costs and maximizing value and by intermediating between members' financial shortages and excess capacities," Ito said.
While CURoots, like a credit union, will need to retain earnings to further enhance services and grow the business, Ito said its primary objective will be to realize savings for credit unions and to intermediate between capacity shortages and capacity excesses.
Ito acknowledged that collaboration is a difficult undertaking that requires trust and a shared vision. The seven executives tapped for the ad hoc committee had proven track records in advocating for and practicing collaboration with other credit unions. The committee members are Chairman Gary Perez, president/CEO, USC Credit Union, Bill Birnie, president/CEO, Eagle Community Credit Union, Diana Dykstra, president/CEO, CCUL/NCUL, Jon Hernandez, president/CEO, CalCom Federal Credit Union, Larry Palochik, president/CEO, Alta Vista Credit Union, Joe Schroeder, president/CEO Ventura County Credit Union, and Linda White, president/CEO, United Health Credit Union.
Perez said collections, loan processing, personnel and benefit services through a professional employer organization IT and asset liability management are just a few of the other offerings up for consideration. The timing could not be better, he suggested.
"The notion is we are credit unions formed as cooperatives but we don't embrace the cooperative ideal. We don't cooperate with each other," Perez said.
In their first year, the committee work groups developed business cases for credit union-owned solutions to vendor management, compliance, and professional employer organizations, Ito said. Having determined that on-site compliance services were a stepping stone to both automated off-site compliance solutions and other back-office functions such as the human resources management area, by the second year, the committee focused on the formation of CURoots Cooperative as a true cooperative enterprise.
"All of the individuals agreed to found CURoots because they share a vision for reducing costs through large-scale, far-reaching collaboration with returns accruing mostly to all participating credit union owners-not to the cooperative CUSO as an entity with divergent interests," Ito said.