By all accounts, it was the $1.6 billion Texas Dow Employees Credit Union that shook up the merger landscape last week with its proposed deal. Described as “50 years in the making,” Texas Dow will expand for the first time into the Houston market by taking over the $80 million Bluebonnet CU.
As it signed an intent letter with the Bluebonnet board, the Lake Jackson credit union detailed an ambitious expansion strategy into metro Houston, including the addition of three new branches and a wider reach into the real estate and mortgage sectors with the purchase two months ago of a Lake Jackson real estate firm it made into a CUSO.
“This is not just a merger of a basically solid credit union that feels and looks like us but the start of a campaign that is decades in the making,” declared Edward Speed, the president/CEO of Texas Dow.
Speed boasted that his CU is not going to be timid as it develops what he described as a strong, robust e-commerce approach to expand into Houston, the nation’s fourth largest market and Texas’ biggest city.
Texas Dow, he said, already has 10,000 members in metro Houston and holds more than $100 million in loans and $90 million in deposits. It is a natural move, he said, to land a deal with Bluebonnet, “which like us knows how to serve the petrochemical industry.” Texas Dow already had a plan to expand into Houston, but the Bluebonnet transaction jump-starts that effort.
Bluebonnet, with 10,000 members and chartered in 1935, serves employees of Gulf Oil Chemical and has four branches in Houston and Baytown.
Speed said Texas Dow would add at least three branches to the four existing Bluebonnet branches within 12 months after the merger, slated to be complete in 90 days. “This will bring TDECU up to 30 branches in 2012 and because of branch locations, our FOM will cover all of Houston, with a metro population over three million.”
For its part, Charles Maguire, the president/CEO of Bluebonnet, said his CU is now undertaking due diligence on the merger proposal, noting that it chose the Texas Dow offer after considering other potential suitors.
Speed described Bluebonnet as holding a “squeaky clean” loan portfolio and though it did experience financial bumps on CD funding, causing a $500,000 loss in 2010, the CU has performed well. It has 6.7% net worth.
“With our board’s approval of the letter of intent, TDECU and BBCU can begin a series of meetings and third-party evaluations,” said Speed, adding “we are truly honored that BBCU would consider us as the entity they would like to have care for their members and employees in the future.”
While the Texas Dow-Bluebonnet merger deal drew the most industry attention, it was hardly the only one last week that highlighted new approaches by CU management to pursue growth strategies.
In West Virginia, the $133 million Pioneer WVA of Charleston said it was taking over a $6.5 million competitor, The-MAC FCU of S. Charleston, and at the same time was laying down a merger gauntlet to at least three small CU prospects in its FOM.
“I’m on the NCUA list, and I’m a player,” said C. Dana Rawlings, the president/CEO of Pioneer, which won final regulatory clearance to consolidate the struggling The-MAC FCU.
The Pioneer CEO stressed that his goal is not simply asset growth but to provide product and service advantages to members outside his Charleston base by opening branches in growth areas in out-lying communities.
He declined to name any of the three merger candidates, but he has talked to board members at all of them in three counties, Putnam, Fayette and Kanawha.
Including the 1,250-member The-MAC FCU, which serves hospital employees, all four of the CUs “share much in common since we have an educational base,” said Rawlings, whose current FOM encompasses six counties.
There are many credit unions experiencing the heavy compliance burden that simply find it impossible to operate, and so a merger is an expedient avenue, said Rawlings, who took over Pioneer following a stint as chief financial officer at Smart CU in Houston. He said his CU is prepared to go outside of West Virginia to expand.
And in South Dakota, Bell FCU and Midwest Partners FCU, which have been Sioux Falls competitors within 75 feet of each other on the same cul de sac, are planning to merge to create a $65 million entity by July or August.
The two Sioux Falls CUs began discussing consolidation plans in earnest last summer “and let me stress, this is a merger of equals, and both of us are healthy,” stressed Darla Erb, who will become president/CEO of the combined CU with 9,000 members and four branches.
Erb holds the same job at the $35 million Bell while her counterpart at the $30 million Midwest Partners, Jeff Schmidt, will become chief operating officer.
On its website, Bell stressed that the merger is not a buyout but a partnership forged to produce product and service benefits.
As for TDECU and Bluebonnet, a key part of the growth strategy is wide CUSO application of TDECU’s purchase of Birdsong Real Estate, renamed as TDECU Real Estate LLC and made effective May 4.
“TDECU now provides services to our members with selling or buying a home through the CUSO, providing the mortgage and the insurance,” said Speed. “Not only will the member get one-stop shopping by using the firm but will also receive financial benefits.” Since it began operation, TDECU Real Estate in its first week “signed up just over $1 million in new listings, signed contracts for just under $1 million in new sales and closed our first sale in the second day of operation,” said Tim Belton, the CU’s director of diversified services.