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ALBANY, N.Y. – There’s no question corporate credit union competition has heated up in recent years (especially in certain pockets of the country), but cooperation is still very much alive, as most recently seen in the growth of corporate credit union partners in a business services CUSO. Empire Corporate FCU announced at its annual economic forum last week that it would become a one-third partner in CU Business Group LLC – a business services CUSO originally started by Northwest Corporate last year. Northwest Corporate President/CEO Kathy Garner was even on hand at the conference when the announcement was made. Northwest Corporate was on the cutting edge with its new business services CUSO. It was designed to help the corporate assist its credit unions in serving its business members – and it was a first for corporates. Northwest hired a couple of former bankers with lots of commercial banking hours logged to get the CUSO off the ground. The CUSO was not slow out of the gates by any means. Just a few months after starting it already helped some CUs in underwriting business loans, and it was seeing increased interest from credit unions. One of its biggest roles is consulting with CUs, getting them comfortable enough to do business loans and offer business deposit products, which CUs are finding can be larger sources of income than loans. Northwest didn’t keep its CUSO closed to other corporates. In October of last year FirstCorp signed on as an owner, and its products began helping Arizona credit unions. Now with Empire as a one-third owner, Empire’s member CUs will benefit from products and services originally established by Northwest. Empire Corporate President/CEO Joe Herbst said he appreciates Northwest’s and FirstCorp’s willingness to open up to Empire because he didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. “When we got done doing our research, we decided that what we wanted to do was exactly what Kathy (Garner, Northwest) and Pete (Pritts, FirstCorp) were already doing. We’re always trying to cooperate within the system. It was our good fortune they allowed us to be a part of it,” said Herbst. Garner said there was no agenda to open up to other corporates, it just happened. “There are no big plans out there. Those corporates that are very interested in looking to provide the service to their members are looking at us. Empire was very interested, so they decided to join as a partner instead of starting up another CUSO,” said Garner. Garner said one surprise with the CUSO so far is how big the member business loans are. “They’re larger than we expected, in the $500,000 to $1 million range. Even at small credit unions, we see members looking for $600,000 loans. Most are for commercial real estate,” she said. Credit unions seem to be surprised, said Garner, about how profitable the deposit side of serving businesses can be. With Empire in New York, Northwest in Oregon and FirstCorp in Arizona, geography obviously isn’t a problem for the CUSO. Garner said while some states have unique laws, most of the forms and rules are standardized. The CUSO contracts with a firm that ensures the correct legal forms are used. Electronic communication helps, and when originals are needed, they are overnighted. The CUSO will hire an employee to work at Empire to get its program off the ground. [email protected]

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