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OGDEN, Utah – In a twist on the Utah credit union/bank wars, America First FCU, the state’s largest, is acquiring four Wal-Mart “in-store” branches from Centennial Bank of Ogden. The $2.8 billion America First said acquiring the in-store branches fits well with expansion plans under way for months at Wal-Mart and at an independent grocery chain with supermarkets throughout Utah. America First currently has 48 branches in the state with 21 of the in-store variety. The purchase price for the four Centennial facilities located in Harrisville, Orem, Springville and Logan was not disclosed but the deal is to be finalized Feb. 19, said Clint Williams, the president of the $100 million bank. Williams said the bank’s management decided last May it wanted to concentrate on commercial/real estate and construction loans and had no interest in the retail outlets. He said he approached several banks and CUs which had the Wal-Mart branches America First was interested in. “This is a question of good business for us,” said Williams noting the ongoing bank/CU clash did not figure in the decision to sell. “I’ve never felt as defensive about credit unions as my peers,” Williams told the Salt Lake Tribune. “This is good for America First and it’s certainly good for us.” Each of the four 693-square-foot branches has four teller windows, loan officer stations and a 24-hour automated teller machine. He said America First has agreed to consider hiring the 18 full and part-time employees at the Wal-Mart branches. America First said it is currently planning to open an in-store branch in a new Wal-Mart the grocery giant is building in Layton with more to come in Wal-Mart Supercenters “in early to mid-2004″ at American Fork, Kearns and Salt Lake City. All of the in-store branches will be open extended hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays. America First had previously announced plans to add brick and mortar branches in Centerville, West Jordan, Draper, Park City and Clinton. Operating under a new federal charter granted by NCUA last May, America First contends it has new branching flexibility for some Utah counties. For years, America First was limited under its state charter to adding new branches only in Davis County. Under the federal charter, America First notes that it is free to recruit customers who live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Morgan, Tooele and Summit counties. An article on the America First purchase in the Salt Lake Tribune quoted Ed Leary, commissioner of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, as saying the transaction is evidence of CU/bank interest in branch expansion in the state. He noted that in some Salt Lake Valley retail shopping areas, credit union and bank branches are going up in close proximity to one another. Leary said he was not surprised by the emphasis on establishing branches since “many people still want the convenience of a branch.” -

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