LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – A group of 10 California credit unions have come together to form Business Loan Link, a new member business lending CUSO that aims to bring another player to serve one of the movement’s fastest growing operations. The CUSO is owned by $71 million Allied Health Care FCU, $208 million Eagle Community CU, $26 million Family 1 FCU, $24 million First American CU, $154 million Fiscal CU, $36 million Health Associates FCU, $24 million OCHA CU, $141 million Sea Air CU, $355 million Southland CU, and $242 million USC CU. Business Loan Link offers a plethora of business lending services including marketing plans tailored to memberships and select employees groups, loan underwriting and credit analysis, loan documentation, portfolio management and staff training. It also offers another layer of MBL policy development that includes a pricing matrix, loan and/or portfolio risk ratings and the development of appropriate forms, checklists and applications. The CUSO launched last July and began processing loans in October. So far, it has 68 contacts that have either been referred or are in various stages of the lending documentation process, said Jill Casselman, president/CEO of Business Loan Link. “The (credit unions) were looking to clearly create the synergies of a business lending operation without the huge overhead to absorb,” Casselman said, adding they can share the costs and share the risks. So far, USC CU is the only SBA-approved lender. Casselman said they have put together an application to have the other nine approved and are waiting to hear back from the agency. On the business deposits’ side, each of the CU owners have various systems in place to address those needs so the CUSO won’t be managing that area, Casselman said. Casselman brings 17 years of career experience at Citicorp and several years at Bank of America and Experian to the new CUSO. Diana Hayes, who serves as vice president of marketing at Business Loan Link, also spent 17 years at Citicorp. The CUSO has a total of four employees including a credit analyst and accountant. Casselman said her Citicorp experience has been valuable to her new role. While at the mega bank, one of her many projects included building a structured program for a Fortune 1000 company that consisted of end users or “retail outlets” having access to loan pools. Right away, she has noticed some “huge differences” between CUs and banks. “Credit union members are very loyal and I don’t think that credit unions are shining the light” on that advantage as often as they should, Casselman said. “Banks compete by transactions. Customers at a bank are not loyal. They will move from bank to bank.” She’s also noticed that credit unions welcome mentoring and coaching when it comes to developing a business lending program. Hayes admits she was “pretty nave” about credit unions, not knowing too much about them. But having worked along side her husband at his business, she can certainly see things from a small business owner’s viewpoint. “It has enabled me to market, talk to members and help them with finances,” Hayes said. “I catch myself as I train inside staff when I’m mentoring them about (smaller) loans and what will meet (the members’) needs. There is a liquidity problem,” she has found. As for those competing with Business Loan Link, Casselman said the CUSO is “not trying to be all things to all people.” They do see community, regional and national banks as well as finance companies in the area as their biggest competitors. To apply for a loan, applicants do not have to belong to either of the 10 credit unions. In fact, three loan transactions have come from nonmembers. But the loan can be a bridge to other services and products at the credit unions, Casselman said. Meanwhile, the CUSO will have a planning session on Feb. 3 that will include discussion from the original owners on whether to take on more owners and/or credit union partners. There are no immediate plans to expand throughout or outside of California, Casselman said. “The credit unions enhance each other,” Casselman said. “They’re a very diverse group. The smaller ones don’t feel threatened. The unique part of a CUSO is you would never see something like this in the banking industry.” -

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