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INDIANAPOLIS – As a former board member at Forum Credit Union for 12 years, Michael Peterson was in on the discussions to pitch the idea of offering trust services when the `timing was right.’ Peterson, now the of $730 million Forum CU and Forum Investments SVP, recalls how board members had a vision that one day there would be a real need for estate planning. That day has arrived with the recent launching of Forum First Trust Services. Forum CU partnered with MEMBERS Trust Co., the Tampa, Fla.-based, nationally chartered trust company launched by Suncoast Schools FCU and CUNA Mutual Insurance Society in November 2003. The alliance between Forum CU and MEMBERS Trust goes back to 2001 with MEMBERS Development Co., a partnership between credit unions and CUNA Mutual Group formed to develop new products and services. Peterson was one of several professionals in on the early discussions and planning for the creation of a national, credit union-owned trust cooperative. “The timing was right because we were seeing a lot of trust operations shutting down in the Indianapolis community because of all the bank mergers,” Peterson said. “Their local presence was moving out of the city.” The combination of seeing a void waiting to be filled and low start-up costs, helped make a second quarter launch possible. MEMBERS Trust offers credit unions two trust service setups: the `agency office’ option requires a trust officer to be physically located in a credit union; the `representative office’ option is an extension of the credit union’s financial services program and does not require hiring a trust officer but uses the services of specially trained representatives to consult and make recommendations for trust services. Forum CU chose the agency office option, Peterson said. The new division will be headed by Steven Boltz, a 30-year industry veteran, former Bank One vice president and trust officer and Fifth Third Bank vice president and senior wealth planner. Launched in April, Forum First Trust Services, 78,000 members will soon have access to a range of trust services. According to several industry estimates, most banks require customers to have a minimum of $1 million in assets to be considered for trust services. Peterson said the threshold at Forum First Trust will be significantly lower. A minimum of $250,000 in assets is the starting point for the use of `life planning,’ services, as he describes it. “When you think about it, when you look at all you own, there’s probably more than $250,000 there,” Peterson. “It really doesn’t matter what assets you have or how much, you should plan on where they go should something happen.” Peterson said he recently read that over half the population does not have wills and he’s personally aware of “horror stories of family fights” over a deceased person’s estate. Over the past two months, Boltz has been putting together a practice management plan on how to move forward, Peterson said. Boltz has been visiting all 10 of Forum CU’s branches acquainting member service representatives about the new division and the importance of service referrals. Staff at the credit union’s business lending group, insurance and investment departments as well as the executive staff and board of directors are coming up to speed. Out in the community, press releases have been sent out to local media outlets and to certified public accountants, estate planning attorneys and investment advisors. Peterson, who is a CPA and has extensive accounting experience, says fostering relationships is essential for referrals. Between him and Boltz, they’ve developed a number of contacts over their professional careers with CPAs and attorneys and those alliances may prove fruitful. “They refer their clients for life planning, so it’s very important to have a relationship with them,” Peterson said. From those that have been in the business for years to start-ups, most credit unions agree that returns in the area of trust services typically won’t been seen until at least five years down the road. “We recognize that this is not a short term proposition,” Peterson said. “We’re looking at five to eight years before we can make it profitable. We see it as the last, integral piece in our spectrum of service,” adding Forum CU currently offers business lending, insurance, investments and accounting and tax services. As for breaking through the stigma that one has to be ultra rich to use trust services, Peterson said for many, it’s the fear of facing their own mortality. “It’s so important to start thinking about what could happen,” he said. “It’s necessary to have a plan in place. We are planning to educate members on how that plan can alleviate problems should something happen to them.” [email protected]

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