When the business day begins on Monday morning, July 1, the $1.8 billion HarborOne Credit Union in Brockton, Mass., one of the oldest credit unions in the country, will open as HarborOne Bank.
James Blake, HarborOne president/CEO, said he has received the new charter documents from the Massachusetts Secretary of State. On Thursday, he said, he also received final approval to be insured by the FDIC.
“This (charter) change (from a credit union to a mutual co-operative bank) is to make sure we have the flexibility to be here 20 years from today,” Blake said.
“The financial services industry is changing dramatically, and we can’t sit on an island and pretend it doesn’t affect credit unions,” Blake said. “We need to have greater flexibility going forward and this provides us with that flexibility to continue to compete.”
By flexibility, Blake means the new bank will be able to provide more loans. He noted that over the last two years, HarborOne CU had to turn down well over $100 million in loan business over the last two years. What’s more, the credit union charter did not allow HarborOne to open a branch in the city of Boston, which was an issue for many of its members that work in the city.
“Credit unions are the only financial institutions in the country that have no access to capital. If Europe goes into a Great Recession and if China continues to slow down, and if our economy goes back into a deep recession, what happens to credit unions in terms of their ability to raise capital? So many credit unions have disappeared over the years. Perhaps access to secondary capital could have helped them,” Blake said.
“All of our competitors have access to capital, so as they grow more rapidly in the market, it allows them to compete on a basis that is different from where we are because we don’t have that flexibility. All of these issues combined caused us to feel that we were in a box in not having the ability to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization,” he said.
Soon after HarborOne announced its plan to convert to a bank in February 2012, it sparked an industry-wide debate and criticism from some credit union leaders. Nearly a year later in March 2013,
HarborOne members approved converting the 96-year-old credit, the largest state-chartered credit union in the state. HarborOne also received regulatory approvals from NCUA and the Massachusetts Division of Banking in April.
Longtime credit union attorney, Steven R. Bisker of Alexandria, Va., said in a Credit Union Times article in March that members who voted for the conversion were not voting for their own best interest.
He argued that NCUA data has consistently shown that when a credit union converts to a bank, the rates charged for loans and the rates paid to savings are not as good as when they were operating as a credit union.
“Why would I want to make my credit union a bank?” Bisker questioned. “The reason why I’m doing business with my credit union is because it is a credit union. If they (HarborOne Members thought their credit union should be a bank, then they should not have been doing business with a credit union in the first place.”
Nevertheless, Blake said he doesn’t think he received a lot of criticism from the credit union industry about the conversion.
“Frankly, I got a lot of calls from people who were supportive,” he said. “They understand it. People don’t necessarily want to talk about it publicly, but it concerns them.”
From Blake’s point of view, the co-operative bank charter is the modernization of the credit union charter.
“The membership of the co-operative bank owns the bank in the same way that members of a credit union does, and the voting rights in the co-operative bank are identical in a credit union,” he said. “So the only difference both in the ownership and in the voting of the credit union and the co-operative bank is that the bank is going to pay tax on its income. Well, for all of the capabilities we get, that is a price worth paying.”
Blake said the old credit union signs at its 14 branches will be changed over the weekend.