Glum is the one word summing up of the mood of the bridge task forces, at least for Members United Corporate Bridge and Western Bridge and their plans to create viable entities for tomorrow.
The sour mood was triggered by a pair of early February statements from the NCUA–one signed by NCUA chairman Debbie Matz, the other by Scott A. Hunt, director of the Office of Corporate Credit Unions–that set out the regulator’s warnings against mergers of very large corporates that would result in an entity that might be too big to fail.
Right then, merger talks that had progressed far between Members United and Western Bridge came to a screeching halt.
"I don’t see this merger happening, even though it was the most responsible action to take," said Dave Chatfield, chair of the corporate realignment task force, which is focused on the next steps for Western Bridge.
Scott Waite, CFO of Patelco in San Francisco and a Western Bridge board member, said: "We are very disappointed. A merger of tier ones was overwhelmingly favored by the members we surveyed. Eighty-six percent voted in favor." Waite made clear that the vote was not on a merger of Western Bridge and Members United per se but a theoretical merger of two tier one bridges. However, the merger that was most attractive was with Members United, said Waite, and most members understood that.
There is a reason for that broad support. In the modeling developed by Waite and others, the key to the viability of a large corporate will be aggregation of a substantial volume of settlement services. The Western Bridge-Members United merger would have created exactly that volume. "I still think merging Western Bridge and Members United would make good sense," said Waite.
In New York, William Mellin, CEO of the Credit Union Association of New York, was more circumspect in his commentary, but Mellin did indicate that "a reconstituted Members United is what will serve our members best."
Members United at this point apparently is proceeding with a drive to recapitalize and recently won the public endorsement of a couple dozen credit unions, large and small and from around New York State, said Mellin.
As for Western Bridge, Waite expressed a determination to go ahead with developing a plan for reconstituting the corporate without a merger with another tier one. He indicated that a range of options will be considered, including a merger with a smaller corporate. "We need a model that will appease the regulator but also serve our members," said Waite.
He added that surveys members expressed interest in a corporate that provided two main services–settlement services and investment services. "Most told us they wanted to get both from one provider," said Waite, who added that this amounted to a kind of endorsement of the entity envisioned with a Western Bridge-Members United merger.