Lake Trust Hits Halfway Mark on Merger Plan: So Far, So Good
Perhaps the office in Brighton, Mich., reflects what’s been happening as Lake Trust Credit Union marks its first year.
The credit union was formed April 1, 2010, through a merger of Detroit Edison Credit Union and NuUnion Credit Union. LTCU has assets of $1.6 billion and the field of membership covers 35 counties stretching from Lakes Huron and Erie on the east coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula to Lake Michigan on the west coast. The move vaulted the credit union into the Billionaire’s Club. It is now the state’s fourth largest credit union, serves more than 158,000 members and operates 21 branches.
Although it was announced that Lansing would be headquarters, that posed a logistical problem. William Thiess, the head of Detroit Edison CU and now president of LTCU, lives in the Detroit area. Stephan Winninger, former NuUnion president/CEO and now the LTCU CEO, was located in Lansing roughly halfway across the state. That posed a question: How to deal with the geographical separation?
The answer was to establish an office in Brighton, a half-way point. The facility isn’t a branch but simply an administrative convenience where the two men can work together and split the commute. A conference room upstairs provides the same convenience for the 17 board members drawn from the two former credit unions.
Thiess, Winninger and the rest of the management staff are working their way through a two-year plan.
"Efficiency was the driver for this merger," Winninger said. "We figured we could be more efficient together than we could be separately. We’re trying to get those efficiencies as quickly as possible."
"One of our early agreements was when we both leave at the end of this year, those big decisions are made, and we don’t burden the next management team with clutter they have to clean up."
Leave? Yes, both men will retire at the end of 2011. In fact, that was part of the transition plan as the merger was taking shape. Mitchell, Stankovic and O’Rourke and Associates are working to help the board select the new CEO. A decision is expected about the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth.
Michigan’s troubled economy has made efficiency even more important. The state has consistently lost population for 20 years. Houses that sold for more than $100,000 a few years ago are now available for a fraction of that. With NCUA assessments, the former credit unions had to move fast just to stay even.
"That’s one reason the merger was attractive," Winninger said. "Let’s do it now before we have to."
Thiess indicated LTCU has identified about 20 conversions that will take place by June 30. The list includes phone systems, ATM networks and credit card processing.
"We’ve done a lot of training, data-scrubbing and cleanup," Winninger added. "It’s probably the biggest project. We’ve done quite a bit in terms of reorganizing the management team and staff."
"We came up with a very complex math formula early on," he quips. "A plus B equals C. Not a bigger A, not a bigger B, but two credit unions coming together to be a whole new entity. This is an opportunity to re-examine everything and determine what makes sense for organization C."
"The joint leadership model that Bill and I have worked out could be like a three-legged race at a county fair. But it’s worked out pretty well. We have worked very well together."
A lot of what they’ve accomplished is transparent. A member visiting a branch since the merger might see a few changes, some product names might be different, but the same people would probably be there.
Thiess said when Detroit Edison CU and NuUnion first met to discuss the merger, they discovered they were very similar.
"They looked like brother and sister,’" Thiess said. "Because of that, there haven’t been a lot of huge changes."
That’s true even though Lake Trust actually represents the merger of four cultures. DECU took over the failed Huron River Valley Credit Union. NuUnion had merged with Ottawa School Employees Credit Union.
Overall, the to-do list seems to be moving along. Financial projections didn’t call for positive income until the middle of 2011. Actually, Winninger indicated, Lake Trust has been profitable six out of the last eight months. Year-to-date earnings at the end of April were $1.4 million. Membership has grown by 1,500. Satisfaction reflected in three member surveys has increased.
"We’ve done the right thing by our members," Thiess said. "It would certainly have been more comfortable just to ride into the sunset. We’re laying the foundation for the future."
Lake Trust Credit Union
Lake Trust Credit Union
Assets: $1.6 billion
Primary sponsor: Community charter covering 35 counties
Capital-to-asset ratio: 8%
Loan portfolio: $1 billion
Steve Winninger William Thiess Retirement plans and hobbies: Coaching and referring soccer; golfing. Graduate of University of Detroit Married, two grown children CEO of Detroit Edison Credit Union since 1990
Retirement plans and hobbies: Coaching and referring soccer; golfing.
Graduate of University of Detroit
Married, two grown children
CEO of Detroit Edison Credit Union since 1990
Graduate of University of Iowa
Married, two grown children
CEO of NuUnion/Lake Trust since 1991
Retirement plans and hobbies: Collecting and working on old cars, specifically Minis; woodworking; playing piano and bagpipes; perhaps some consulting.