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TUKWILA, Wash. – BECU’s quest to offer business services and loans to its members goes back roughly nine years ago when a survey overwhelmingly showed a strong desire to have that access. The $4.8 billion credit union didn’t purposely drag its feet on bringing such offerings to its more than 370,000 members, said Arnie Gunderson, BECU of small business services, but wanted to be sure several factors were in place before moving forward. Those factors are now in alignment and BECU has officially launched its small business services program. Members will now have access to an array of business products – from checking, CDs, money market and savings accounts to real estate loans, lines of credit, term loans and merchant card processing, payroll services and business credit cards. BECU has partnered with third-party vendors to offer the latter three products including limited international services such as spot contracts and foreign currency exchanges, said Gunderson, hired by BECU in May 2003 to start the program from scratch. “Prior to my arrival, BECU’s core processing system needed to be changed,” Gunderson said. That conversion was made in November 2002 and included a business services component.” The decision to go with Open Solutions Inc. (OSI) allowed BECU the ability to handle both business deposits and business loans. When the credit union, initially chartered in 1935 to serve Boeing Company employees, expanded its charter in August 2002 to serve all of Washington’s residents, pressing forward with its small business program seemed more of a reality, Gunderson said. BECU did a soft rollout on March 1, 2004 at two of its 33 Express Services Centers. The centers were chosen because of the large number of businesses in the area surrounding one center and the manager’s bank commercial lending expertise at another center, Gunderson said. The beta test ironed out all the bugs and business services are now available at BECU’s 33 centers. “We were very pleased with the results of our pilot program,” said Gunderson. “The majority of our credit transactions have been for less than $100,000, which is a market that we believe, has been underserved by the traditional banks.” During the pilot, a business owner of a restaurant had been working with a major bank that was not very responsive because credit requests of $100,000 or less are considered unsecured lines of credit, Gunderson said. “We were able to provide a solution in one business day, enabling the business owner to quickly return his attention to running his business,” Gunderson said. BECU plans to cast a wide target net with its new program. Businesses with up to $10 million in sales or 100 employees are prime candidates. Gunderson emphasized the credit union will not turn away those that exceed that threshold but instead, will work with them on an individual basis to see how BECU can meet their needs. While BECU is Washington’s largest credit union, the new program will initially be marketed in the Greater Puget Sound area here. BECU is already seeing success since signing on to become an SBA lender on April 14, 2004. The credit union has nine SBA loans on the books making it the seventh largest SBA lender in the Seattle district, Gunderson said. Fifty additional business loans totaling $4 million are also in the portfolio. “We found that the majority of our members who had businesses that were small and home-based were a good fit for SBA products,” Gunderson said. A survey to BECU members nearly nine years ago revealed a desire to have business services, and in September 2003 BECU surveyed its members again to get a better grasp of that need. Of the 2,500 that responded, 800 said they were in a decision-making capacity at a small business and 400 indicated they were sole proprietors. Along with Gunderson, a 20-year banking veteran with extensive experience in small business lending and other areas, the new small business service department has four other staffers with bank commercial lending backgrounds including Janie Sacco, SBA’s 2003 Financial Advocate of the Year for the Seattle district. Having a knowledgeable staff is probably the most critical component, Gunderson said. “I would not underestimate the need of having the right persons in place,” he emphasized. “It’s very important to hire the staff that can answer questions members may have and can especially underwrite loans.” -

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