Horizon Completes Successful Merger with Montana First

Horizon Credit Union officially merged with Montana First Credit Union on Aug. 3, 2012, marking the first time a credit union chartered in Washington has entered the Montana market.

“Horizon is proud to be the first to accomplish this,” Horizon President and CEO Jeff Adams said. “It has been a multi-year process. We are excited about the opportunities this provides for both memberships and employees.”

That multi-year process included seeing the first merger proposal between the two credit unions voted down by Montana First’s membership in January. This time around, Montana First created an ad hoc committee that spent two months researching the merger and held five public meetings to share findings, discuss details of the merger and answer members’ questions. The credit union also launched a marketing campaign that included television, billboard and newspaper ads urging members to vote.

As a result, the second member vote produced a 56-percent majority in favor of the merger.

Montana First has two branches—both in Missoula—and serves approximately 9,700 members. Adams described Montana First last fall as being “a good fit demographically,” and the merger now gives Horizon a three-state reach, joining locations in Washington and Idaho.

The new merger plan is almost exactly the same as the original, with the main difference being that Montana First will keep its name moving forward. The system conversion will be completed the weekend of Nov. 30, andMontana First members will have access to Horizon’s full suite of online banking, mobile services and branches beginning Dec. 1.

“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.”

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 was granted an eight-county charter expansion to serve the Idaho Panhandle in 2004 as well, and its reach would now stretch across three states with the inclusion of its new Montana membership base.

“The trick is to maintain the culture and service to the members, continuing to maintain that same value as you expand and just having the additional financial leverage,” Adams said.

Horizon was originally founded in 1947 as the Kaiser Employees Federal Credit Union to serve the needs of Kaiser Aluminum employees and their families. The Horizon moniker was adopted in 1991 as the credit union’s field of membership expanded.

Adams indicated that the credit union expected this to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of its presence in Montana.

 “We will be looking at the Montana charter and exploring different locations in Western Montana for additional branches in the next 18 months,” he said. “This in turn will create more jobs in Western Montana and help the local economy.”

Montana First will give up its local board of directors, though Montana First members will have the opportunity to elect one member to the Horizon board. Current Montana First CEO Chris Sisco will retire with a severance package in 13 months, and all Montana First employees will keep their jobs as part of the merger agreement.


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor: mhalvorson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Community Impact, Financial Education.