One of the inspirations behind creating a statewide lending brand that would be easily recognized by small business owners in Michigan evolved from conversations with local trade groups.
Bill Beardsley, president of Michigan Business Connection LLC, heard the questions about credit unions: How does one join, where can I find them and what are they doing in the business lending space?
Convinced that there was an opportunity here, Beardsley and his team did a soft rollout of Michigan CU Capital on May 16. The new venture will allow credit unions of all sizes to serve their members’ small business loan needs on a turnkey basis. Together, MBC and participating credit unions will work together to share costs and expertise while creating a collective brand that symbolizes a commitment to the best practices in small business lending, Beardsley explained.
Specifically, MCUC will be a virtual entity under MBC’s umbrella. Formed in 2004, commercial lending CUSO MBC in Ann Arbor, Mich., manages more than $200 million in business lending portfolio assets for Michigan credit unions. The services will include loan documentation and SBA loan origination; application and delivery support; access to loan participations; loan servicing; and portfolio management from accounting, payment processing and reporting to annual reviews, collections and liquidations.
One of the major differences between MCUC and what MBC is currently doing will be its target audience. The new CUSO aims to provide a full-service business lending shop for cooperatives that want to make small loans in the range of $75,000 to $250,000 including SBA loans, Beardsley said. The average MBC loan is $500,000, he added.
At the same time, the MCUC brand will be regularly promoted within the finance community and will enable a participating credit union access to the CUSO’s website to highlight their own credit union business lending successes.
“Credit unions have had a tremendous opportunity in commercial lending over the last five years, in part because of what banks have been through,” Beardsley said. “The low-hanging fruit that was relatively easy to pick was commercial loans. So a borrower introduced to a credit union through commercial lending now has become a member and has entrusted them to do more business financing.”
MCUC recently sent out 300 postcards to the CEOs of Michigan credit unions getting the word out about the collaborative effort. Larry Blochard, assistant general manager of lending at the $80 million Post Community Credit Union in Battle Creek, received one and was intrigued by the offer–even more so after hearing Beardsley speak at a marketing and lending conference. The credit union has wanted to offer business loans for some time but just didn’t have the resources to make it happen.
“We found there was a need in our membership for small business loans. We have the money to lend out. We got the deposits,” Blochard said. “But the cost to do business lending is just not in the budget, nor is the technology or software to support it.”
The premise behind MCUC is the more participants, the less the shared costs. Blochard said that strategy is ideal for Post Community and other credit unions with less than $100 million in assets that want to play but don’t have enough to pay. Still, the cooperative won’t dive headfirst into new territory.
“We’re approaching business lending in the same manner we approached mortgage lending several years ago–with kid gloves,” Blochard emphasized.
A former commercial loan officer who worked at a $350 million bank in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Blochard said he is well aware of the resources and infrastructure it takes to build a business lending program. He also acknowledged that not making a move will certainly give the competition an edge.
“You’ve got to be a player that provides different products and services to those people,” he noted. “We received a lot of demand from mom and pop shops.”
For Post Community, building a wider presence is critical for a cooperative with more than 8,500 members. The credit union was initially founded to serve Post Cereal, the company known for many popular breakfast foods. A few years ago, the credit union merged with several others. Blochard said Post Community now has an audience of 240,000 residents.
Meanwhile, Beardsley said MCUC is moving forward establishing more relationships. MBC recently hired a staffer who will oversee training initiatives associated with the MCUC brand among other duties. A website is more than 80% done. MCUC’s official launch is scheduled for this summer.
“When you bring credit unions together under a collaborative brand, it allows you to build scale,” Beardsley said, adding the industry has earned its stripes. “I think credit unions have been very prudent and successful in their lending activity and have earned their credibility in managing loans.”