Three Wisconsin credit unions have decided there is strength in numbers when it comes to facing the challenges of an increasingly competitive financial market.
Wisconsin’s first three-way credit union merger awaits final regulatory approval from NCUA and the state’s Department of Financial Institutions, as well as the votes of both Lakeview and Best Advantage credit unions’ members.
CitizensFirst CEO Kevin Ralofsky
Dubbed Credit Union 2.0 by its merger team, the new entity will operate legally under the Citizen’s First flag until a new name is chosen later this year. The newly merged credit union will have combined assets of $600 million and serve an aggregate 47,000 members in 15 counties from 10 branches and 13 ATMs in and around the Fox River Valley, one of the Badger State’s most competitive financial services regions.
The merger was nether one of necessity nor convenience, but rather a strategic decision on the part of three institutions, according to Kevin Ralofsky, CitizensFirst president/CEO who will assume the same role for the newly merged institution.
“We knew we could go it alone and do well, but we felt that with greater scale and size we’d have the ability to be more relevant in the marketplace,” Ralofsky said.
Increasing regulatory burden and growing competition led Ralofsky, Lakeview president/CEO Pat Lowney and Best Advantage president/CEO Tammy Williams to look for a new way to serve their members.
The Fox River Valley is currently home to 65 different financial institution brands, of which 37 are banks and 28 are credit unions. Those competitive numbers continue to grow.
One of the most compelling features of the newly merged institution will be its ability to expand Citizens First’s member business loan model to all three credit union memberships. Citizens First, which turns 75 years old this year, was offering business loans prior to NCUA’s imposition of the 12.25% of assets cap.
Consequently, the credit union’s program was grandfathered in and is not subject to the cap, instead operating under a self-imposed policy of limiting business loans to 300% of reserves. The opportunity immediately appealed to Lowney, whose business loan program at Lakeview, now 80 years old, had capped out four years earlier. Best Advantage, although 75 years old, did not have the capacity to offer business loans, Williams said.
“We didn’t need to do this, but it was going to be a continuing struggle in the years to come,” said Lowney. “We knew we could do this better together than we could do it alone.”