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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Discovering the winning combination for providing insurance services is never easy-even for Alaska USA Federal Credit Union. The credit union recently signed a letter of intent to acquire Alaska’s largest independent insurance agency Ribelin Lowell and Company Insurance Brokers, but getting to the point of deciding to buy Ribelin Lowell didn’t come overnight. Since the mid `80s, the $2.3 billion credit union has been tinkering with its insurance agency formula to come up with the best solution for its members. “We recognized early on that there was a higher demand than the credit related insurance products we were offering at the time,” said Alaska USA FCU Vice President of Corporate Development Nancy Usera. “And we wanted to offer a broader range of insurance including life, health and homeowners that would be very compatible with our other services and it just made sense. So we could say `oh you just bought a new car would you like help with your auto insurance?’ ” In 1986 the credit union formed the Alaska USA Insurance Agency as a separate CUSO to offer members insurance products and services on a competitive and affordable basis. In 2000, after NCUA ruled that credit unions could have incidental powers the agency was then folded back into the credit union and the CUSO was disbanded. While the agency continued to do well Usera says given Alaska’s competitive landscape and the potential of the market the agency wanted to do more. “ What we found, and it may be unique to Alaska, but while we have a huge membership, the market share is very small and it is difficult for any insurance brokerage to get the carriers to come up here and stay with a population of some 600,000,” said Usera. “It was erratic, a carrier would come up and then two years later they’d be gone and the potential for discounts or the affinity advantage would be marginal.” According to Usera, since the area doesn’t have the volume to build a sufficient risk pool attracting national carriers to provide coverage, the credit union started thinking about how to do a better job providing insurance to members. Wanting to expand and add value to its portfolio of available programs, a few years ago, looking at national trends where financial institutions were purchasing agencies rather than building their own, Usera says the idea to find an insurance partner seemed to be the right solution. “We decided to go down that road and look to acquire a quality insurance agency that shares the same commitment to service and value,” said Usera. The credit union turned to Concord, Ohio-based insurance consulting firm Marsh Berry to find the right fit. Usera says it is up to each credit union to determine which insurance solution will ultimately work best for them. “The `A-ha’ moment for us that we needed help was recognizing that insurance is a different kind of beast with premiums sold, claims, residuals- it is almost like a different language so having someone help navigate you through the process is very important,” said Usera. ” For such a commitment and to have that expertise it was well worth our investment.” After about a year of evaluation, due diligence and talks, Alaska USA signed the letter of intent to acquire Ribelin. “ Not only do they have an excellent reputation in the marketplace but they also offer a full line of both personal and business lines,” said Usera. Ribelin Lowell and Company President Richard Lowell will remain affiliated in a consulting capacity and no personnel changes are planned. Ribelin Lowell has 70 employees working in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Soldotna. The firm will operate as Ribelin Lowell Alaska USA Insurance and the deal, if approved, should be complete by the end of the year. “The best advice I got throughout this whole process is that we have to recognize that an insurance agency operates very differently than a credit union and if you start turning it into operation units then success will be significantly impaired,” said Usera. “Check in with me in about a year to see how it is working.” [email protected]

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