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BRIDGETON, Mo. – Just as a recent General Accounting Office report claims more credit unions than ever are doing less to serve moderate and low-income households, residents of an Illinois community “held hostage” by check-cashing stores and bank fees will now have access to a plethora of financial services thanks to a recent credit union merger. “Held hostage” is the terminology Vantage CU President/CEO Hubert Hoosman used to describe the financial stranglehold banks and check cashers have on residents of East St. Louis. Executives at Vantage Credit Union, the fourth largest credit union in Missouri with 67,000 members and $447 million in assets, could have sat by and watched tiny St. Clair County Teachers Credit Union (SCCTCU) buckle under the weight of member bankruptcies and a non-existent succession plan since the CEO was set to retire after 30 years at the helm. Instead, Vantage’s Board made the decision to step in and merge SCCTCU, a $4.2 million credit union serving 3,200 members comprised of school district and city employees, into its operation, said Hubert Hoosman, Vantage president/CEO. The merger is unique since Vantage is based in Bridgeton, Missouri and St. Clair’s home base is in East St. Louis, Illinois. “Unfortunately, East St. Louis has been painted in a negative light,” Hoosman said. “There are hard-working people who live and work here” who want affordable financial services, he added, pointing out that at 14%, SCCTCU is a well-capitalized credit union with a “viable” membership. Hoosman said St. Clair had looked at several credit unions to potentially merge with but all were not interested in having a presence in East St. Louis, a “low-income” community in Illinois. Discussions began in June, the respective boards approved the merger in August, and NCUA granted the approval in late October. The merger is scheduled to be complete on Dec. 1. SCCTCU’s three employees not only will be retained but also received “substantial” raises and more benefits, Hoosman said. In his pre-merger research, Hoosman discovered that nearly 1,043 residents in St. Clair and a neighboring county were Vantage members. With a potential 6,000 members in St. Clair County, Vantage is considering opening more branches there. The credit union currently has nine branches and a tenth is scheduled to open in January 2004. News of the merger comes on the heels of Vantage’s one-year anniversary since changing its name from Educational Employees Credit Union. Nearly 3,200 new members opened accounts since Vantage’s official name change on Oct. 1, 2002. He estimates that less than 20 accounts closed as a result of the new name, mostly from “tenured members” who felt the credit union should keep the EECU moniker. “EECU is an icon in the area and we wanted to be sure people were comfortable with the change,” Hoosman said. [email protected]

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