Members will cast their vote Monday on whether to approve or reject converting the $1.8 billion HarborOne Credit Union in Brockton, Mass., to a mutual co-operative bank charter.
Operating as a credit union since 1917, HarborOne has grown to become the largest state-charted credit union in New England. Nevertheless, the longstanding credit union has said its reasons to convert were the flexibility to expand HarborOne’s markets and customer base, increase its lending authority, including small business lending, and gain access to additional capital.
“The member meeting is at 5 p.m. at the Shaw’s Center in Brockton,” said James Rice, HarborOne’s vice president of marketing. “We do not know how long the meeting will last as members will have the opportunity to express their opinion on the charter change, and we cannot predict how many will choose to do so.”
HarborOne’s 139,078 members were mailed ballots on Feb. 19. Eligible members may cast their ballot by postage-paid return mail, place the confidential ballot envelope in a lockbox at one of the CU’s 14 branches, or vote in person at the meeting.
“Colbent Corporation of Braintree, Mass., is the independent inspector of (the vote), and they are required to have the (vote) tally completed within 10 (calendar) days of the meeting,” Rice said, meaning the final vote count will be completed by March 21 or earlier.
HarborOne’s President/CEO James Blake has told Boston media that because HarborOne’s field of membership is limited to four counties, the credit union has been forced to turn down $70 million in mortgages and other consumer loans from potential members who live outside its market.
After the conversion plan was announced Feb. 16, 2012 and approved by HarborOne’s board a month later, it sparked an industry-wide debate and criticism from some credit union leaders.
Steve Bisker, a former NCUA assistant general counsel and attorney in Washington, D.C., disputed HarborOne’s reasons for mulling the move, saying HarborOne was at only 20% of its member business lending cap, based on his examination of HarborOne’s preliminary online notice filed with regulators.
“The stated ‘consequences of conversion’ are inaccurate or misleading at best,” Bisker told Credit Union Times in March 2012, pointing to what he said were inconsistencies on HarborOne’s stated need for more capital to lend and its prospects for increased membership under a mutual charter.
But industry analysts argued credit union frustration over NCUA assessments coupled with the inability to raise capital and expand business lending to compete with banks apparently helped spur HarborOne CU’s proposal to convert to a bank.
“Margins have been pretty thin for awhile now and credit unions see no way to build capital and they don’t like paying those assessments while seeing so much uncertainty ahead,” Alan Theriault of Portland, Maine, a conversion specialist, told Credit Union Times in February. He also said that at least one billion-dollar CU was ready to make the switch and so were a handful of $200-$400 million CUs.
Richard S. Garabedian, a partner at the Luse Gorman Pomerenk & Schick law firm in Washington, D.C., said, “I’d say the corporate crisis and the sense of many credit unions feeling boxed in” by the onslaught of new regulations and tighter NCUA exam restrictions triggers moves like HarborOne.
Except for the $1.4 billion Technology CU of San Jose, Calif. and a few smaller CUs with conversion plans, there has been a lull in activity, but the trend may be about to change, Garabedian said in a Credit Union Times article last February. N
Technology CU members overwhelmingly rejected a bid to convert their institution to a mutual bank in September. Of the total 18,000 votes cast, 14,000 voted no to the conversion and 4,000 voted in favor of it.