With its chartering announcement last week, Thrivent Financial Federal Credit Union began life as a credit union again, an identity it has not held since Thrivent Financial was formed out of two credit unions in 2001.
The new credit union will be a partner of its sponsor, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a faith-based financial services firm that primarily offers insurance and investment products.
The Appleton, Wis.-based credit union will have $500 million in assets and will offer deposit and consumer loan products. TFFCU will have an association field of membership made up of the clients of Thrivent Financial and their immediate family members, a pool of roughly 2.5 million people nationwide, according to credit union executives.
Thrivent CEO Todd Sipe and deputy general counsel David Royal, reported that about 47,000 current Thrivent Financial Bank customers became TFFCU members as of Dec. 1.
Drawing members from Thrivent clients also means the credit union will not offer investment services. Thrivent will continue to offer those through Thrivent Trust Co., which is the new name for the bank that will continue as a subsidiary of the sponsor.
Sipe and Royal explained that the launch of the new credit union is less a charter change as a charter spin off, since parts of the bank will continue as Thrivent Trust.
Starting the credit union will allow Thrivent to offer its clients a more affordable source for consumer loans and other retail banking services than it was able to do with a bank subsidiary as well as ease the regulatory burden of the parent company. The burden, Sipe and Royal said, became more significant under regulations arising from financial regulatory reform.
“At the level of the institution, moving from a bank to a credit union didn’t really mean much regulatory change for us,” Sipe explained. “Especially since, as you know, most of the federal financial regulators issue their regulations jointly. But moving the retail banking products and services to a credit union did lower the burden for the holding company that owns the bank,” he said.
Thrivent Financial Bank was a stock bank with all of the stock held by the holding company as the new bank, Thrivent Trust Co. will be as well, Sipe explained. The bank retained its capital in the charter change, and the parent company donated the money necessary to capitalize the credit union. Sipe didn’t reveal how much that was but said that the amount was sufficient to make sure the credit union qualified as well-capitalized.
Since all the credit union’s new members were once bank depositors and have no experience at being credit union members, Sipe acknowledged that the credit union faced a communication challenge involved in explaining credit union membership to them. But he also noted that this was not as big a challenge as one might think, on account of the nature of the parent company.
“Thrivent Financial is a fraternal benefit organization, essentially a mutual financial firm,” Sipe explained. “So our members who are also members of Thrivent have had experience with electing directors and participating in the sort of governance that credit unions also use.”
Sipe said there were no products that the bank offers now that it would not offer as a credit union. The investment products are currently offered by a trust company subsidiary, not the bank. Nor would the credit union start to offer new products. But Sipe expected that the price of most of the loan prices would drop to reflect the new credit union’s nonprofit status and having to compete with other credit unions where the interest rates are generally lower.
He also said the new credit union definitely planned to offer its members access to their accounts and other credit union services through shared branching. But there is no timeline for that since it is so far unclear what needs to be done with the credit union’s core processor.
We are very excited about shared branching and see the opportunities it presents,” Sipe said, “We just have to figure out how to do it.”
Sipe said the new credit union will not have to hire many staff with credit union experience since many of the current staff have worked at credit unions before. Sipe and Royal both worked at credit unions prior to coming to work for the bank and Sipe said there were still some long-term staff who came to the bank when it was formed in 2001.
“It does feel a little bit like coming back to something familiar,” Sipe said.