Is Western Bridge Falling Down?
It is countdown to an Aug. 31 deadline for United Resources, the new corporate that may rise out of Western Bridge, but there are plenty of signs that credit unions are looking for alternatives as the evidence mounts that the capital goal will not be reached.
From trade association NAFCU and CUSO ProDraft to technology provider Bluepoint Solutions and other corporate credit unions such as Corporate One and Corporate America, the race is on to help create a smooth transition for the approximately 885 credit unions presently doing business with Western Bridge.
There is no information from the NCUA about when or if the regulator will turn off the lights at San Dimas, Calif-based Western Bridge, but the agency has been clear that it does not intend for the bridge corporates to operate under the NCUA umbrella indefinitely.
Choices will be plentiful, and probably easy, for larger credit unions that will find many institutions competing for their business post-Western Bridge. Challenges are more notable for small credit unions.
In that regard, credit union consultant Marvin Umholtz said he expected a bumpy transition road ahead for many smaller credit unions. But he also predicted happy results. “Most of them will succeed in finding a new provider despite the need to adjust their operations in the short run. Credit unions under $100 million in assets, my definition of smaller, are a resilient group that have demonstrated over time the ability to make it through the toughest challenges.”
Becker stressed that a prime choice for many credit unions in his view is the Federal Reserve. “I continue to hear that the Fed won’t serve smaller credit unions, but whenever I look into this. I don’t find any facts that support that statement. I have discussed this with the Fed, and the Fed tells me they are required by law to serve them.”
Becker also suggests that credit unions look at other corporates, at the Federal Home Loan Bank, and also at North Dakota CUSO ProDraft, which rose out of the remains of MidWest Corporate and, through an alliance with Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, offers a suite of correspondent services to credit unions, said ProDraft’s Doug Wolf.
“We are expecting an onslaught of inquiries from credit unions that know they need to plan beyond Western Bridge,” said Wolf. He added that presently ProDraft is used by around 50 credit unions, mainly based in the Dakotas, but he indicated ProDraft is open to taking on credit unions in other states.
Also expected to gain members out of the possible Western Bridge closure are several existing corporates and, from Irondale, Ala,. Corporate America’s CEO Thomas Bonds said that he expected many current Western Bridge members to sign up with him. “We do not require a capital contribution, but we are a full-service corporate. And we already are hearing from many credit unions in the western states.” Bonds indicated his membership now is around 500, but “I would not be surprised if we reach 700 by year end.”
In this mix as well is Columbus, Ohio-based Corporate One, said Robert Coyan, senior vice president, who indicated that “we have been fielding an increase in calls from credit unions,” presumably as doubts about United Resources’ future deepen. Coyan stressed that “more than 10% of our membership is from the western part of the U.S., so we already have a footprint in the region. In fact, we've added 12 new members from the western region just recently.”
Coyan also indicated that Corporate One is ready to embrace smaller credit unions. “More than 60% of our membership has assets of less the $50 million, so we are well equipped to handle this size credit union.”
And in Phoenix, comparatively tiny First Corporate, which recently announced it has topped its capitalization goals, also said it was open to adding to its present base of 48 members. “Our pipeline is gushing with prospective members,” said CEO Pete Pritts. “We are ready to take on new members.”
Vendors, meantime, are looking to smooth the exit route out of Western Bridge, and leading this charge is Vista, Calif.-based technology developer Bluepoint Solutions, which recently announced that it is implementing no-cost solutions that will help credit unions shift item processing and image capture to the Federal Reserve or an existing Bluepoint Solutions customer such as Catalyst Corporate, Corporate America CU, Corporate One FCU, CUsource, Mid-Atlantic Corporate FCU and Palmetto Cooperative Services.
Bluepoint Solutions executive Andrew Tilbury said, “The leadership of credit unions has a responsibility to look at their options. We are presenting an option that won’t impact them financially and won’t involve retraining their staff because they already know how to use these products.”
So many choices but so little time. That is the new reality for credit unions that may find themselves snagged in the apparent failure of United Resources to capitalize. Stressed NAFCU’s Becker, “I believe NCUA will expect credit unions to move in a deliberate, well-thought out process to examine and decide upon alternatives that they may need if indeed some corporates fail to meet their capital goals. And I very much hope that most credit unions have a plan B.”