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By MICHELLE A. SAMAADJump-starting slowed loan activity at Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union is probably one of the top checklist items for Space Coast Credit Union officials appointed to save the troubled financial institution.The $1.6 billion Space Coast continues to be on site at the Miramar, Fla.-based Eastern Financial as needed to complete due diligence, said Meredith Gibson, a Space Coast spokeswoman. One of the efforts involves the very area that got the credit union in trouble: loans.“We are working on reestablishing lending production, which had slowed considerably prior to the conservatorship,” Gibson said.Eastern Financial suffered millions of dollars in real estate and other loan losses in 2008. Gibson said Space Coast is planning marketing and communication efforts to let members and the communities that Eastern Financial serves know that “we are making loans and making them at competitive rates.” The credit union has a strong selection of mortgage products and is also ready to get back to serving members’ needs for vehicle loans, which will be available through direct application to Eastern Financial, she added. The indirect lending program has not yet been reestablished, Gibson said.“[Space Coast] is working to apply the efficiencies we have built over the past 10 years or so to the [Eastern Financial] application and approval process to get the loans closed quickly so members can act on their home and vehicle purchases.”The NCUA placed Eastern Financial into conservatorship on April 24. Space Coast took over operations on April 27, the same day it announced its intent to merge with the $1.6 billion credit union. The NCUA Board has the merger application under consideration, and no decisions have been made thus far, said John McKechnie, NCUA director of public and congressional affairs. If the merger goes through, the consolidated credit union will have more than 350,000 members, have $3 billion in assets and have more than 60 branches and 150 ATM locations.Meanwhile, of the inquiries coming in to Eastern Financial, members are asking about fund safety, whether transactions are still proceeding and the future of the credit union founded in 1937 to serve Eastern Airlines, McKechnie said. The credit union has received fewer than five inquiries per week since being placed in conservatorship more than a month ago, he added.“This has very much been an example of business as usual at work,” McKechnie said. “The situation at Eastern continues to be very stable.”While McKechnie said he “cannot quantify account closures and withdrawals” at Eastern Financial, he did say that “they are within the range of those at similarly sized credit unions.”–[email protected]

American River Merging With SAFE

Underscoring ongoing earnings pressure on California credit unions, the $230 million American River HealthPro CU is merging with the $1.3 billion SAFE CU of Sacramento effective July 1.Sacramento-based American River, which lost $5.8 million in 2008, “did come to us with a merger plan” some months ago, said a SAFE spokesperson, adding that both CUs are in a strong capital position. “We see this relationship as a strong, future partnership.”Following the merger, American River will be closing three of its branches at Carmichael, Roseville and midtown Sacramento, all to be consolidated with nearby SAFE facilities. Being retained is an American River headquarters office at Rancho Cordova, a community where SAFE did not have a presence. SAFE has 20 northern California branches.All operational aspects of the American River merger are slated for completion in October, the SAFE spokesman said.In a statement, Robert Steponovich, president/CEO of American River, said the merger will enhance member services and lower account fees.American River, which has 21,000 members and 60 employees, was originally founded in 1955 to provide banking services to the old Aerojet plant. In 1998, the CU merged with HealthPro FCU.–[email protected]

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