The merger trend of small credit unions appears on a fast track but that doesn’t bar opportunities to both enhance and protect the culture, according to the head of the $1.5 billion Community First CU, Wisconsin’s third largest.
Catherine Tierney, president/CEO, said her 92,000-member Appleton CU is now embarking on its second small CU merger in 2011 and remains diligent about ensuring incoming members are properly “rewarded with generous bonuses or dividends.”
That was the case this June when $400,000 was doled out by Community First in the takeover of the struggling $7 million Menasha Corp. Employees Credit Union, which had maintained 13% capital.
“I know some of my peers are not too supportive of the payout idea but we think it is good way to retain member loyalty and prevent these members devoted for years to their credit union” from drifting to other financial institutions, said Tierney.
Community First had managed Menasha for nearly two years prior to the merger “and let me tell you it was not easy trying to pull in a positive bottom line,” Tierney said. Like other small CUs, the 1,494-member Neenah CU had coped with assessments, poor economy and pressures to offer home banking products but still found the task overwhelming and opted instead for merger.
Community First is engaged now on a second merger bid for the ailing $1.7 million W.P.S. CU of Oshkosh, Tierney said, adding, “We expect to follow the same procedure and provide those members a generous dividend” now being finalized but on a smaller scale.
As a result of the payout, the 268 members of W. P.S., which serves Wisconsin Power employees, “will end up happy to remain as members” and appreciative of their new parent and in the long run the industry as a whole, Tierney said.
“Because we are well capitalized we’re able to do this kind of transaction,” she said, noting that regulators continue to encourage small CUs unable to earn a sustained profit to seek out merger partners.
On another topic relating to Menasha and W.P.S., Community First is grandfathering the life savings insurance products of the two CUs. Those offerings popular in the 1950s through the 1970s at many small CUs represented “a sacred bond” that was developed between members and their CU, Tierney said.
So while other CUs have eliminated them, “we feel strongly that they should be continued,” said Tierney.
Apart from running her Appleton CU, Tierney is the chairman-elect of the Credit Union Executive Council of NASCUS, taking office in September, and is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council.