New Owners Seek to Rebuild Business Partners Brand
When a litany of loan and management problems led to the demise of Telesis Community Credit Union earlier this year, the business lending CUSO it founded 17 years ago likely knew it would inherit a perception problem within the industry.
For the past nine months, Business Partners LLC in Chatsworth, Calif., has been operating under the management of the NCUA after the regulator was appointed the conservator of Telesis in March shortly after the California Department of Financial Institutions shuttled the troubled credit union into conservatorship.
While the NCUA assured at the time of Telesis’ conservatorship that Business Partners would continue to operate and with the CUSO reporting in May that it had maintained profitability for eight consecutive years, the firm that once touted more than $1 billion in business loan servicing, is still dealing with a damaged reputation.
“Quite frankly, the brand and the image have been tarnished because of Telesis,” said Dave Maus, president/CEO of the $1.2 billion Public Service Credit Union in Denver. “We have some work to do to repair that.”
One major step in that direction came in mid-November when Business Partners announced three new principal owners of the CUSO. In addition to Public Service, the $650 million Farmers Insurance Group Federal Credit Union in Los Angeles and the $526 million Great Lakes Credit Union in North Chicago, Ill., are now the lead shareholders.
The CUSO also confirmed that the NCUA recently reached an agreement to sell its controlling interest to a managing partner group consisting of three credit unions. The price was not disclosed.
“Business Partners CUSO’s new ownership group is made up of three large credit unions with expertise in business lending, and they will be able to use this expertise to guide BP’s operations in the future,” said John Fairbanks, NCUA public affairs specialist.
Business Partners’ Owners
- Public Service Credit Union – Denver
- Great Lakes Credit Union – North Chicago, Ill.
- Farmers Insurance Group Federal Credit Union – Los Angeles
- Altura Credit Union – Riverside, Calif.
- America First Federal Credit Union – Salt Lake City
- California Bear Credit Union – Los Angeles
- Genisys Credit Union – Bloomfield, Mich.
- Sierra Point Credit Union – South San Francisco, Calif.
- Travis Credit Union – Vacaville, Calif.
- Caisse Centrale Desjardins – Quebec, Canada
- FORUM Credit Union – Indianapolis
- Chevron Credit Union – San Francisco
- Tulsa Federal Credit Union – Tulsa, Okla.
- Universal 1 Credit Union – Dayton, Ohio
- Verity Credit Union – Seattle
Business Partners now has 15 credit union shareholders with the NCUA owning a very small portion as the liquidating agent for the prior Western Corporate Federal Credit Union, according to Mark Herter, president/CEO of Farmers Insurance Group FCU.
The new structure ensures that it will remain under the control of credit unions and will continue as a CUSO. Just as important, Maus said the distinction needs to be made that Telesis’ collapse did not have an impact on Business Partners.
“Telesis got into some trouble. Business Partners has always been strong. It’s got over $1 billion in servicing to help credit unions originate member business loans when they didn’t have economies of scale,” Maus pointed out. “If loans go bad, Business Partners does not suffer losses because they don’t hold the loans. It’s kind of like being a bookie. He’s going to make money whether the loans go good or bad.”
When Business Partners launched in 1995, it always put away 15% in reserves, Maus said, adding that the cushion offers more proof of the CUSO’s financial strength. To ensure safety and soundness, it has also been audited and examined on a continuous basis, according to Business Partners.
After releasing its audited financial results for 2011 in May, Business Partners said it had equity at $7.7 million, which equaled 28.1% of its assets. Cash and certificates of deposit investment liquidity totaled $6.8 million or 24.8% on total assets of $27.5 million. The CUSO said profitability continued for the eighth consecutive year with net income at more than $1 million 13.3% return on equity and 3.8% return on assets.
While the principal owner lineup has changed, Business Partners said its core offerings will remain the same, including specializing in all areas of member business lending, including loan origination, loan participation, servicing and quality control.
The $674.5 million Altura Credit Union in Riverside, Calif., was one of the CUSO’s owners that took a hit to its net income due to a $1.8 million impairment charge related to an investment in Business Partners. Altura CEO Mark Hawkins said despite its stake in Business Partners having less worth, the credit union is looking forward to seeing a renewed and reconfigured CUSO.
Maus said in selecting the principal owners, a call was made out to all of Business Partners’ owners to see who would be interested in bidding on Telesis’ interest. In the end, Public Service, Farmers Insurance Group and Great Lakes moved to the front of the line.
There is also a nine-member board of directors represented by six credit unions. Maus said he will initially serve as the board’s chairman. Vikki Kaiser, president/CEO of Great Lakes, has been named vice chairman, and Herter will serve as secretary treasurer.
“It’s going to be much different this time. In the past, the management of Telesis ran the CUSO,” Maus said. “Safety and soundness will be the main concern.”
Loren Houchen will remain the interim president of Business Partners overseeing a team of 45 employees. He succeeded Jean Faenza, the CUSO’s former president/CEO. Other management positions such as a full-time chief financial officer will also be filled. Maus said there is a strong and capable staff in place and an evaluation of skill sets may determine if some internal transitions might be made. Rather than eliminating current positions, Maus said it is more likely Business Partners will hire additional employees.
The CUSO, which will remain in Chatsworth, just renegotiated its lease although it is not a long-term contract, Maus said, adding there will be some assessment of future needs. The NCUA owns the building that houses Business Partners, he noted.
One immediate priority is the establishment of a credit committee composed of several credit union representatives to review loan packages, determine if loans can be participated out and overall, ensure that loans are credit worthy, Maus said.
Farmers Insurance Group FCU has been with Business Partners for 11 years, Herter said. The credit union has the advantage of not having a MBL cap because it was grandfathered in under the Credit Union Member Access Act. While it has a large commercial loan portfolio through its primary sponsor, Farmers Insurance Group, Herter said the cooperative also has $70 million in participations with Business Partners.
Herter said he’s in it for the long run. He also sees this time as a ripe opportunity for the CUSO to serve as an advocate for prudent member business lending.
“In a nut shell, we have no intention of turning away. Business Partners is in the business to educate credit unions about the nature of risks and the process involved in business lending,” Herter said. “We can help augment and strengthen credit union balance sheets for those that do decide to get into loan participations.”
Like Maus, Herter is aware that the CUSO has to overcome a perception problem because of its link to Telesis.
“We’re concerned about that. Telesis was a failure. Business Partners is not a part of that failure. We believe strongly in paying more heed to what the NCUA’s concerns are in the whole arena of MBLs. That’s a fundamental part,” Herter said.
The CUSO plans to be right in the center of extolling the benefits of business lending–the right away, Herter emphasized. That includes talking to Congress about increasing the MBL cap.
And many in the industry are rooting for Business Partners’ new direction.