When credit union advocates battled three bills in the Oregon legislature, Advantis Credit Union put on its combat gear.
And thanks to individual credit unions and the Northwest Credit Union Association the measures were halted in committee. The proposals would have required credit unions to file more paperwork, put them under the Community Reinvestment Act, and added a corporate excise tax to state-chartered credit unions with more than 10% of assets or $250,000 in business loans.
The campaign to kill the legislation was waged in the media as well as in legislative hallways. In an interview in The Portland Business Journal, Advantis President/CEO Bob Corwin explained, “I have been involved with credit unions since 1977, and I can honestly say there has never been a time during that period that we have not had to defend ourselves from some kind of banking industry attack.”
What enabled credit unions to halt the bills? Probably a combination of things, Corwin told Credit Union Times.
“I don’t know how receptive to these bills the legislature was to begin with,” he said. “They are similar arguments to what we have had to combat in the past. Through the Northwest Credit Union Association, we have a very strong grassroots effort already in place. We have good relationships with a lot of our legislators, and we have a lot of activism among the credit unions. When something like this comes up we are able to address it fairly well.”
Even with victories like that, Corwin believes there’s still a need to build better understanding of what credit unions have to offer.
“Market share has not grown significantly,” he said. At Advantis, “we are trying to do things within our community. We have what we call our Grow Fund. We get out into the community, solicit grant applications from nonprofits, then evaluate those applications and put it out to our membership to select the actual programs we will give money to. We want to be as active and visible in our community as we can.”
Advantis just joined the Billionaires Club, and is now Oregon’s fourth-largest credit union. The credit union has won recognition for value provided to members. That’s a challenge at a time when spreads are thin.
Corwin explained the credit union is always conscious of operating expenses and tries to run efficiently. There’s also very good participation by members, who award the credit union an attractive share of wallet.
In addition, “We take advantage of some balance sheet management tools,” he added. “We utilize things such as participation loans to increase yields. I think we’ve just been able to operate efficiently and return more as a percentage back to our membership.”
The legacy membership at Advantis includes county employees, public transportation workers and Portland General Electric. They haven’t been as affected by layoffs as many other groups, but even so, financial planning offered by Advantis has enjoyed fairly steady growth. Members who have been affected by the recession can turn to the credit union for financial counseling.
Members can also take advantage of a mortgage rehabilitation program. Corwin describes it as a niche product. He explained that a couple of the credit union’s branches are in older parts of town currently undergoing gentrification. Mortgage rehabilitation allows someone to buy a home that has deferred maintenance and get the funds they need to complete the necessary work.
Thanks to tight pockets at other financial institutions, Advantis has attracted business loans, especially smaller commercial loans. A typical loan provides office and retail space, with some industrial.
“The percentage we have in each category is fairly well-distributed, with about 20% of our business loans in office and retail space,” Corwin indicated. “We’re split about half and half between member business loans and participation business loans. We believe that gives us additional diversification outside this geographic area so we’re not as dependent on local economies.”
Advantis membership is also diversified.
“Working class to maybe upper middle income are the members we seem to be attracting. We find we do have a challenge in attracting membership unless we have a physical presence, a branch. We’re obviously still influenced by our legacy membership. Police departments and that kind of thing still make up a large percentage of our members. There has been a cutback in government spending, so obviously in today’s economy with two-income households if one job is okay there may be changes in the other spouse’s position,” Corwin said.
After graduating from Portland State University with a major in business administration, Corwin joined what is now First Tech Credit Union, where he remained until 2008. Then he accepted a position with Meritrust Credit Union in Kansas. He remained there until 2012, when he became president/CEO of Advantis.
Married with three grown children and two grandchildren, Corwin often spends evenings at community events. He enjoys golfing and camping, and declares he couldn’t find a better place for camping than his native Oregon.