Is Possible Consolidation of Washington League, Credit Union Association of Oregon Part of Regionalization Trend?
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. and BEAVERTON, Ore. - It's still premature to add the Washington Credit Union League and Credit Union Association of Oregon's names to the list of credit union leagues that have merged. What is known so far is the boards of the two organizations have "agreed in concept...
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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. and BEAVERTON, Ore. – It’s still premature to add the Washington Credit Union League and Credit Union Association of Oregon’s names to the list of credit union leagues that have merged. What is known so far is the boards of the two organizations have “agreed in concept to consider” such a move to consolidate, and while feedback from credit unions in the two states is mixed, many CUs concur the consolidation is symptomatic of the trend in regionalization among CU structures. Emphasizing that discussions between WCUL and CUAO about a possible consolidation have been on-going “for more than 20 years” and “there is still a possibility nothing will happen,” Washington Credit Union League President/CEO John Annaloro confirmed the two organizations had each appointed a task force to consider the pros and cons of a possible consolidation “that would enhance their ability to advance credit unions in the Northwest.” The move comes just a little more than a month after the North and South Dakota Credit Union Leagues announced their plans to merge for “economies of scale.” In correspondence to Washington State credit union CEOs, CUAO Chairman Paul Williams, president/CEO, Clackamas FCU, Corvalis, and WCUL Chair Byron Edgett, president/CEO, Spokane FCU explained that a joint two-state Alignment Task Force “is considering a single structure which would consolidate all the current activities of the two organizations into one entity.” The new governance structure, the letter explains, would include cross representations from both CU organizations’ boards and a unified staff structure. However, separate boards or committees could still be necessary to prioritize state-specific activities, such as governmental affairs. In their letter, the two chairmen stated that the goal “is to include the best of all the current programs and services provided by the CUAO and WCUL, as well as the Foundations, PACS, small CU assistance, progressive charter changes and other initiatives, under a streamlined structure.This is a pivotal moment in the histories of CUAO and WCUL, and we all believe that this new structure holds significant potential.” They stressed that the consolidation “is not a done deal. The task force is looking closely at all the pros and cons of a possible consolidation.” Among some of the pros are: enhanced program offerings for CUs; lowers costs for overhead will mean a greater percentage of dues dollars channeled directly to advocacy, education and services; expanded scope, staffing talent, operations, and market positioning of the organizations; provide a bigger and more comprehensive association marketplace for CUSO and business partners; enable synergies and networking exchanges between CEOs, staffs and boards from throughout the Northwest region. “There are still a lot of issues that need to be discussed and investigated over the next several months. Those discussions include setting up the process for including input from Washington and Oregon credit unions. We want it to be an inclusive process with open dialogue and good communication. Whatever decision is made will be in the best interests of credit unions in Washington and Oregon,” Annaloro told Credit Union Times. CUAO President/CEO Gene Poitras also stressed that “no decision has been finalized, there are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.” He said he’d already heard back from many credit unions in the state and “understandably” the reaction was mixed – some were wholeheartedly for a consolidation and others were opposed, but several others had questions concerning how a consolidation would impact them and the availability of services. According to Annaloro, the impetus for the possible consolidation has come from Oregon and Washington credit unions. Once a year, as part of the Western States Summit Roundtable, CUs from Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Utah, California, Nevada, and Hawaii meet to discuss relevant issues. During regional breakout sessions at those meetings, credit unions from Washington and Oregon have suggested the Washington League and CUAO consolidate, said Annaloro. “Regionalization of a lot of credit union structures makes sense,” says Kevin Foster-Keddie, president/CEO, Washington State Employees CU. “It’s better for the credit unions involved and for their members because it allows the leagues to combine resources for training, development and political action. It doesn’t make sense to have the same organizations doing the same things. Credit unions are already together in so many ways through shared branching and CUSOs, why shouldn’t leagues do the same?” Oregon’s Rick Hein, president/CEO, OSU FCU in Corvalis agrees that, “In today’s environment, it the duty of every organization to determine if they’re currently filling the needs of their member credit unions and ask themselves if there are ways to improve their efficiencies. Economies of scale are the biggest upside to keeping costs down.” Like other CUs in Washington and Oregon, Mary Jane Campbell, svp sales and marketing, Portland Teachers CU is taking a “wait and see” attitude for now since the task force has just begun preliminary discussions and nothing’s been decided. “They’re going to have to see what’s in the best interest of all the credit unions. The way business is in general, every one is looking for an option. But the bottom line always is would it be in the business’ best interest. Until we see how they’re going to proceed, it’s premature to discuss it,” she said. Foster-Keddie is certain any consolidation between the Oregon and Washington leagues “won’t weaken the credit unions’ identification. The Northwest has its own unique character, just as each part of the country has their own unique values. This area, for example, is very politically active. This is a single type of market, and in the long run a consolidation between the two will be good for credit unions,” Foster-Keddie says. Gary Oakland, president/CEO, Boeing Employees CU agrees that regionalization and a consolidation between the Washington League and CUAO “makes sense. There are too many overlaps in services happening at the league level, especially as the number of credit unions continues to decline. We’re cooperatives, so why shouldn’t we be cooperating. Cooperation doesn’t stop at the state line. We have to break out of the mentality that has existed that there’s an entitlement for each state league to have their own charter. It doesn’t make as much sense as it used to.” Oakland said he encouraged WCUL and CUAO over the last five years to talk about a possible consolidation, and what impresses him now is not the tenor of the talks, but the tenacity. “Discussions are going on more regularly now, there’s more of a mutual interest now,” he said. OSU FCU’s Hein is going to monitor the situation as it develops and looks forward to seeing the list of pros and cons of a consolidation the task force draws up. “As the task force gets involved, I’m sure they’ll look at the cultures of each organization and credit unions to see if they’re able to blend. Even though both are in northwest states, that doesn’t mean we necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything. Oregon credit unions have made a lot of gains, and we have to make sure we don’t loose ground if there’s a consolidation.” Annaloro stressed that “so far there has been no timeline set for any consolidation and no decision has been made by either organization that such a proposal will be submitted to their credit unions for final approval.” In Oregon, a series of meetings will be held around the state in the spring. Area meetings on the possible consolidation, as well as other topics, are also being scheduled in Washington for April. Annaloro said there are still many issues that need to be addressed. One issue being considered involves centralizing operations as building leases expire. Other issues that will have to be resolved concern the name of the new consolidated organization, where it will be located, and who will be in charge. Poitras, 62, said he hasn’t as yet made any “formal” announcements about his retirement, but he has mentioned it casually to some people “and they assume I will be doing something in the next few years because of my age.” -
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