The $722 million Altura Credit Union, headquartered in Riverside, Calif., will close four branches and lay off 11% of its workforce, according to the CU.
In a letter on its website, Altura CEO Mark Hawkins said the four branches due for closing are the most recent ones opened. Hawkins blamed the ongoing bad economy, which he said had improved but not enough.
“The Riverside/Inland Empire area appears to be stabilizing, but not yet staging a comeback,” Hawkins wrote. “Unemployment remains high at 14.1%, which impacts our members' lives and their ability to repay loans. As a result, Altura’s loan losses peaked in 2010.”
A release from the credit union reported that 26 employees will lose their positions in the closings. Their positions represent 11% of the 223 full-time positions the credit union reported on its December 2010 report to the NCUA.
One of the four branches to be closed is in a local Walmart store and will close May 18. The three others are local branches that will close May 10, 11 and 17 and be replaced by ATMs.
“Although we believe the local economy has begun to stabilize, we felt it prudent to set aside more funds in reserve for potential losses,” said Hawkins. “We also have tightened our loan underwriting standards to limit risk. Unfortunately, that has reduced the number of new loans and the resulting income.”
“As a result,” Hawkins adds, “we continue to examine ways to further reduce our day-to-day operating expenses. That is why we made the difficult decision to close our only in-store branch and transition three others to all-electronic locations. The goal is to return Altura to profitability while minimizing disruptions in service to our members,” he said. The move has not been welcomed by some members as reflected by some of the comments left on the CU's website about the change.
Several members expressed concerns about holds being placed on deposits through the ATM when no hold would have been placed on deposits made in person through one of the branches that is being closed.
“I would also like to know about monies being available after deposit. Typically, I'm told that my money will be held for two days unless the bank physically sees that it's a Social Security check,” wrote one member, Kelly Ramirez. “This news is VERY disappointing to me as I just opened my bank account with Altura two months ago due to the close location to my home and work. Two weeks after opening my account, the branch by my work shut down. Now the location by my home is turning into a bank with no human contact. And with no human contact, my money won't be readily available. This is quite disturbing news. I guess I'll have to be looking for another bank.”
Another member who looked to the CU for help with her small business accounts expressed similar emotions.
“This is extremely frustrating given that it cost us a small fortune to open a business account three months ago, between exorbitant check printing fees and monthly fees for the privilege of banking with Altura,” wrote Sarah Russell. “Now all that is down the drain. A business account cannot be managed by an ATM. Off we go to another bank.”
For its part the credit union pointed out that it is a part of CO-OP Financial Services Shared Branching, which should help ease some member inconvenience, as well as the CO-OP Network of fee-free ATMs. But a CU spokesman also acknowledged that the members in the communities where the branches were being switched over to ATM-only faced a long distance, maybe as much as 35 miles, to the next branch with an Altura employee in it.
The move to close the branches came after a significant restating of its financial results for last year to increase its allowance for loan losses. The CU increased the loan loss allowance by $3 million, a move which pushed its income further into the hole for the year, and dropped its capital ratio from 6.18% to 5.81%.
Altura’s restated financials show a loss of $5.8 million for the year on assets of $726.8 million. Originally, Altura reported a loss of $2.9 million for 2010, the CU said, but also offered a positive observation that even the restated losses were better than the more than $20 million the CU lost in 2009.
Altura said the employees that will be laid off have been offered severance packages, outplacement services and Altura loan modification packages to assist them in their transition. Staffers also can apply for any open positions within the organization, the CU said.
“These decisions are never easy. Unfortunately, with reduced income, we had few options for cutting expenses that didn’t involve staff layoffs,” Hawkins said.