Michigan CUSO Merger Helps Clear Up Branding Confusion
How do you steer a brand out front, convince all involved of the potential savings and still deliver a suite of products and services to credit unions, hopefully, seamlessly? Consider a merger.
That’s what happened between CUcorp and CU Solutions Group when the two combined operations on July 1. The Lansing, Mich.-based CUcorp is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates. The CUSO serves the state’s credit unions with card services, lending products and consulting and partner relationships. Located in Livonia, Mich., CU Solutions Group was formed in 2010 by combining several entities including CU Village, HRN, and Koker Goodwin into one company, according to the league.
As a result of that consolidation, CUSG extended its reach outside of Michigan to offer credit unions nationwide service in marketing, technology, membership enhancement and performance management. The recent merger will take the CUSO a step further with credit union performance solutions.
Dave Adams, president/CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates, who will continue to serve as CEO of CUSG, said prior to the merger, somewhere in the myriad of divisions in place, a few things had become muddled.
“We came to the realization that operating with separate units has advantages but the big disadvantage was a failure to realize efficiencies and brand clarity,” Adams explained.
With the merger, more room has opened up for CUSG to reap tax savings and other efficiencies while still providing strong return to the CUSO’s shareholders and continued value to its stakeholders, Adams said.
For starters, combining CUcorp and CUSG cost less than $100,000, Adams noted, adding the merger included the typical legal and analysis expenses. However, the consolidation is expected to yield more than $1.5 million in tax savings.
In addition to being owned by the MCUL, CUSG’s other owners include 125 investors made up of 20 leagues, more than 100 credit unions and CUSOs, CUNA Mutual Group, CUNA Strategic Services and CO-OP Financial Services.
Even with the merger, CUSG’s services still run the gamut from dozens of offerings within its technology and marketing spaces among others to its signature Invest in America, 2012 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Program recipient. Launched in the 2008, the program provides members nationwide with savings on product and services offered by companies such as General Motors, Sprint, Dell, TurboTax and DirectTV.
“I believe the merger will also reduce the brand confusion that is sometimes in the marketplace. With just one company and one name, more focus can be placed on marketing the actual products rather than trying to educate credit unions on what each company does,” said Jackie Buchanan, who has served on CUSG’s board since 2004 and is president/CEO of the $1.5 billion Genisys Credit Union in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Like Adams, she sees how reduced expenses and increased efficiencies will impact all of CUSG’s stakeholders. By having only one management team, one back office operation and one board of directors, Buchanan said more resources will be available for continued research, development and possibly more strategic acquisitions in the future.
“With these increased sales and usage as well as with the reduced expenses, pricing will continue to be very competitive for all credit unions,” said Buchanan, CUSG’s treasurer. “Credit unions have already benefited greatly because of the very talented teams of both of these organizations.”
Adams acknowledged the biggest consolidation challenge was the management structure. Drew Egan, who previously served as president and chief operating officer of CUcorp, will continue on as executive vice president and chief operating officer of CUSG. Todd Mason, the CUSO’s chief operating officer, left the organization in June for another career opportunity, according to Adams. All 40 of CUcorp’s other employees transitioned over to CUSG.
There were significant moves in board composition as a result of the merger, Adams noted. CUcorp operated like a traditional league-owned service corporation with seven directors elected by the MCUL board, he explained. The league had a 70% ownership stake in CUSG with 80 credit unions and 19 other leagues having small ownership interests. Adams served as chairman of the board along with two other Michigan league staffers in addition to representatives from CUSG’s other shareholders. After the merger, the board now has 12 members with Adams and league staff no longer serving on the board. Ultimately, the changes worked out.
“It’s gone very well. We have a very stable team of management who are used to working with each other,” Adams said. “Our policy makers have made it clear that they want a clean separation between the business units and the association.”
Pete Dzuris, who has served on both CUcorp’s board for roughly five years and CUSG’s board for 10 years, saw the value in sticking with the newly-combined entity
“We’ve seen a lot of good things come from the company,” said CUSG Vice Chairman Dzuris, who is also president/CEO of the $272 million Northland Area Federal Credit Union in Oscoda, Mich. “Just as you see credit unions and consolidation of not just smaller ones into larger ones but also large credit unions into larger ones, what (this merger) does it takes the resources of each to benefit all parties.”
Dzuris, who is also a CUNA board member, said ownership opportunities have opened up for credit unions to invest in CUSG. Eighty of the CUSO’s current owners have gone that route, Adams said. Earnings have also helped to reduce the cost of dues and produced an 8% yield for CUSG’s long-time stakeholders.
“That’s somewhat unique in the credit union space. Our client credit unions can’t say ‘you’re profitable at our expense,’” Adams said.
Indeed, the dividend yield in 2011 and 2012 was 4% for investors who came aboard over the last 24 months. Adams is expecting the same for 2013. He said original investors received a higher 8% dividend yield because their initial investment was done at a much lower level.
Looking ahead, Adams is counting on CUSG’s diversified model to take the subsidiary further. “We couldn’t do what we do without our state and national association partners,” Adams said.”