Two healthy and like-size Oregon credit unions, the $145 million Wauna FCU of Clatskanie, and the $162 million St. Helens Community FCU are exploring a possible merger which, if approved, could become effective by yearend, it was announced over the weekend.
The consolidation subject to member and regulatory approval is being sought for reasons related to both bank/credit union competition and economies of scale, the credit unions said in a non-binding letter of intent.
“We are still in an exploratory stage to see if our members agree,” stressed Michael Chapman, vice president/marketing director of Wauna, noting the two credit unions have for years existed with overlapping membership.
The two northwest Oregon credit unions, along the Columbia River basin and only 30 miles apart, have considered a merger for years but the time now seemed opportune given the area’s ongoing economic problems, said Chapman.
The two home cities and rural Columbia and Clatsop counties have experienced high unemployment rates of 12% to 15%, made worse by the downturn in the timber, paper and fishing industries.
“Over the years the two credit unions have reached out to each other but things never quite progressed until now,” Chapman said.
Still to be decided is a new name for the institution as well as the makeup of the management.
Both credit unions have advanced tech products including mobile services “but we feel we can do better as a merged organization,” Chapman said, noting the competitive challenges that lie on the horizon from expansion-minded Portland credit unions and banks.
In a prepared statement, Robert Blumberg, president/CEO of Wauna FCU, said “both organizations are committed to do what is right for the membership and the communities they serve.
“Both credit unions share a common heritage,” the statement said, noting that a merger “would produce greater efficiencies and support needed technology advancements.” Lee Chitwood, chair of St. Helens, said also it is important members and the public understands “that a merger such as this is completely different than mergers between the mega-banks.”
Their reason to merge is to generate more profits “and with no consideration to their customers. When credit unions merge, it is the membership that benefits because we are non-profit,” said Chitwood.