Horizon's Montana Merger Faces Member Angst
Two Northwest credit unions – one in Washington State and the other in Montana – are gearing up for member criticism Thursday of a planned interstate merger.
The challenge to the consolidation of the $432 million Horizon CU of Spokane Valley, Wash., with the $63 million Montana First CU of Missoula, Mont., has been brewing for weeks in the local media and could surface again at a special meeting of Montana First members to vote on the deal.
“Yes, the reaction in the paper was kind of a surprise after the amount of energy we’ve invested in our monthly newsletters and fact sheets given to members at the annual meeting explaining the very positive benefits of this merger for our community,” lamented Christie Sisco, president/CEO of Montana First.
The latest critique of the Horizon-Montana First combination came over the New Year’s weekend in a long Missoulian article quoting former directors, including a past CEO complaining Montana First would lose its identity and would suffer less personal service in a merger.
“The fact is the Montana First name will remain intact once the merger is complete and service will improve,” promised Jeff Adams, president/CEO of Horizon CU, which is making its first entry into its neighbor state via the Montana First merger.
The Montana First consolidation would allow Horizon to expand into five Montana counties.
Horizon has 18 branches and already has expanded into neighboring Idaho. With two branches, Montana First has 7,900 members and was chartered 80 years ago to serve U.S. Forest Service employees.
Adams said the merger talks with Montana First have been under way for nearly a year with both boards in favor of the consolidation having performed extensive due diligence.
Regarding the member objections, Adams noted that he saw “maybe three letters to the editor from some outspoken members.” The initial negative reaction started appearing in November.
Horizon said he and other members of the management team will be ready to answer any questions at the special membership meeting on Thursday. If the merger wins member approval, it would advance to final regulatory clearance with a February or March target date for completion, he said.
Montana First was initially picked out as a potential merger partner based on a recommendation following a survey done of potential Northwest CUs by the Raddon Financial Group of Chicago, Horizon officials said last month.
“We have long tried to be completely transparent with our merger plans and to communicate” openly with members of Montana First and Horizon, said Adams, noting that once the merger is finalized Montana First would become a division of the Spokane CU.