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ST. LOUIS -Credit Union Lending Systems purposely didn’t make a big deal when it opened for business six years ago as an indirect lending CUSO for Missouri credit unions. But now the multi-owned CUSO is ready for its coming-out party. CULS CEO Angie Anderson says the indirect lending CUSO has deliberately kept below the radar screen since it was founded in May 2000. She explained that prior to forming the CUSO, the 20 founding credit unions and original shareholders were clients of Bentley Network’s Credit Union Member Lending program. Anderson, a former vice president of marketing for St. Louis Postal CU, as well as a former vice president of St. Louis operations for Bentley Networks, said when Steve Bentley decided to expand into other markets, the company’s credit union clients began talking about forming an indirect lending CUSO of their own because of the financial benefit to credit unions and their interest in working with a CUSO that was focused on serving credit unions. Bentley’s Credit Union Member Lending program was eventually purchased by the Credit Union Indirect Lending Association. The program is now administered under the name CUDirect Connect. In addition, Bentley Networks became known as The Aimbridge Group. Steve Bentley is now CEO of that organization. “When we first formed Credit Union Lending Systems, it was a new venture, and we weren’t sure if it would succeed. So we didn’t do any massive press releases announcing ourselves, but decided to focus on just the 20 founding credit unions until we considered ourselves successful and were ready to start talking about ourselves. I guess that time has come,” said Anderson, noting that the CUSO also provides services to 12 non-owner CUs. She added that she still keeps in touch with Stephanie Kroepfl, vice president of strategic development, CU Direct Connect, and Adrian Dominguez, president/CEO, Credit Union Acceptance Corp., an indirect lending CUSO based in Houston, Texas and serves credit unions in six states. The three of them used to work together at Bentley’s CUML. These days CULS’ services aren’t just limited to handling indirect loans for new and used vehicles. The multi-owned CUSO also offers indirect lending services for boats, recreational vehicles, motorcycles and all terrain vehicles. Its dealer network includes 312 dealers. While the majority of CULS’ credit union clients are based in the St. Louis area, the CUSO is currently piloting expanding its services to the Kansas City market. Anderson said some of the CUSO’s credit union clients have a presence in that area, “so we decided to go into Kansas City and see how it takes off.” Six credit unions are participating in the pilot – Central Communications CU, Mazuma CU, Healthcare Community CU, Kansas City Police CU, Postal & Community CU, and United Consumers CU. Anderson said CULS’ loan volume ranges from 800-1,000 loans a month, “depending on the time of year. Because of personal property taxes in Missouri, a lot of people planning to buy a car hold off until January.” Anderson agrees the biggest challenge facing credit unions involved in indirect lending is finding a way to turn indirect lending members into quality members by convincing them to use more of the CU’s products and services, and she’s convinced the problem is surmountable. “As an old-time marketer, I would have dived into the opportunity to cross-sell somebody. If a credit union has a marketing person who’s dedicated to cross-selling, it’s entirely possible to make these quality members. It’s a question of commitment and allocating the right people to cross-sell these members,” she says. She also emphasized that indirect lending CUSOs and credit unions that offer the service must be willing to manage their dealer relations and “police” their dealerships, something Anderson doesn’t think credit unions have done a good enough job in. “Our dealer agreement is top notch. We lay the hammer down if a dealership isn’t abiding by our contract terms. We do a lot of auditing on our side to keep everyone on the right path, and we’re ready to jump right into a situation if something doesn’t seem right,” she said, boasting that, “We won’t fund a deal unless the paperwork is perfect. “A lot of credit unions are afraid to come down on a dealership because they’re concerned if they do that the dealership won’t send them more business. They don’t want to rock the boat or make the dealer finance person unhappy. But credit unions need to keep raising the bar, they have to be just as strict as if someone walked into their location for a loan.” Looking ahead to the rest of 2006, CULS wants to expand its credit union and dealer network in Missouri. Anderson would like to add 40 dealers to its network and five or six more credit unions. “The more credit unions we have, the more volume we’ll be able to generate. Our objective is to keep our service level outstanding on both sides and keep our fees down,” she said. -

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