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MARGATE, Fla. – Ask Jim Sturdy what he considers to be the key to successful indirect lending and he’ll tell you “relationship building.” That’s what the COO of South Florida Acceptance Corp. credits the one-year old indirect lending CUSO’s success to in its first 12-months of operation. Consider these numbers: starting in April 2003 when the CUSO was founded to December, SFAC did a little over $23 million in loans. Then in January alone it funded $11 million in loans, and one month later it funded more than 600 loans worth more than $12 million. Consider this as well: although credit unions’ auto lending strength has typically been in the used car segment, SFAC’s mix of new and used cars funded has been around 60/40 respectively. The multiple-owned CUSO is still owned by same four original south Florida credit unions that founded it – Tropical Financial CU, Power 1 CU, City County CU of Fort Lauderdale, and Pan-Am Horizons FCU. Jerry Neemann, COO/ svp of business operations for CUDL has been working with SFAC since the CUSO was founded last April. He said CUDL’s interest in working with the CUSO “is part of the company’s evolution process, a strategic initiative to look at those opportunities.” Neemann described SFAC as being “a growing entity impacting the auto lending market in south Florida,” and he stressed that CUDL’s focus is to create a national indirect lending platform. “To accomplish that, you need all credit unions working together, whether in a CUSO structure or as an individual credit union.” “I look at my competition, SunTrust and BankofAmerica, and tell myself every loan we get and every contact I make is something I’m taking from the banks. We constantly remain aware of what our main competitors are doing with their program. Because of our size, we can adjust or match what they’re offering if it makes fiscal sense in terms of our growth,” says Sturdy. SFAC’s COO said indirect lending is a “relationship business.” The CUSO currently has relationships with 30 dealers primarily in Dade and Broward counties – it’s just begun cultivating relationships with dealers in Palm Beach County – and Sturdy said the CUSO does not aggressively pursue new dealership relationships just for the sake of numbers. “We can’t compromise service standards just to sign up new dealers,” he said. Eric Lehman, a southeast dealer account sales representative for CUDL who has worked closely with SFAC said “there’s no one magic bullet for SFAC’s success. They have a good program that they rolled out with the right dealers. They’re not creating new cereal boxes, they’re stealing business from their competitors.” Just how successful SFAC has been in cultivating relationships with area dealerships is evident in the number of new members that have joined four participating credit unions from dealer referrals. Lloyd Gil, COO of City County CU of Fort Lauderdale said SFAC has not only been a tool for the four CUs to increase their auto loan portfolio but also as a way to bring in new members. Of all the auto loans the CU funded in 2003 through the CUSO, 995 of them were for new members. The CU’s total auto loan portfolio is $86 million, making up more than half of its total $150 million loan portfolio. Gil said for the time being the CUSO has no plans to bring in additional CU participants. “Our appetite for new members isn’t even half filled,” he said. -

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