St. Helens, Wauna Explore Merger Talks as Northwest Credit Unions Continue to Join Forces

The boards of directors for St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union (SHCFCU) and Wauna Federal Credit Union (WFCU) have signed a non-binding letter of intent to explore the possible benefits of a merger.

The announcement comes on the heels of last week’s news that Horizon Credit Union in Spokane, Wash., had seen a successful member vote on its merger with Montana First Credit Union, expanding Horizon’s reach to three states. Two weeks ago, Quimper Credit Union also announced its intentions to merge with Kitsap Credit Union.

“Officials from both organizations are committed to do what is right for their membership and the communities they serve,” said Robert Blumberg, Wauna’s president and CEO. “Key factors to these discussions include the impact that the economy and competition has for credit unions of our asset sizeplus, both credit unions share a common heritage and serve local communities.”

Unlike the two most recent mergers, the proposed combination of Wauna and St. Helens would represent a merger of equals in terms of asset size, one that would result in a $310 million credit union. As of March 31, 2012, St. Helens checked in with $166.5 million in assets and 15,037 members, with Wauna reporting $143.3 million and 16,593 members.

Blumberg stressed the efficiencies and technology advances often enhanced with mergers. Similarly, SHCFCU Board Chair Lea Chitwood explained that member service is the primary driver in the merger talks.

“When credit unions merge, it is the membership that benefits, because we are not-for-profit,” Chitwood said. “Any monetary considerations from a credit union merger go directly to the members in the form of better savings and loan rates and the opportunity to provide more services.”

Leadership from both credit unions stressed that the discussions are exploratory at this point. If the talks don’t point to a beneficial merger, “both credit unions will continue business as usual,” Chitwood said.

A news release jointly released by the credit unions indicates employees of both financial institutions have been informed, and both credit unions pledged transparency with members.

For Horizon, the exploratory period is finally in the past, as Montana First members voted 56 percent to 44 percent in favor of the merger, which was first announced last November.

“We are very excited about this new opportunity in Montana,” said Horizon CEO Jeff Adams. “We will be able to serve the small and medium markets in Western Montana and bring credit union services to more areas under the Montana First name.”

The acquisition is the Spokane Valley-based credit union’s third significant merger since 2004. In 2006, Horizon merged with Columbia Basin Federal Credit Union, which then marked the largest credit union merger in Washington history and pushed Horizon’s membership above 30,000. This came just two years after Horizon merged with Mountain View Credit Union, also based in Spokane.

Horizon currently boasts $451 million in assets and will grow to $515 million with the addition of Montana First’s $64 million in assets. All employees from Montana First will retain their jobs under the merger agreement.

“There’s some expanded convenience,” Adams said in November, explaining the benefits of the merger for Horizon members. “But there’s also the scale and diversification of risk within additional markets and different portfolios and things like that. And really, when you continue to grow in scale, you can offer more to all your members.”


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