Ex-Banker Now Champions Credit Union Business Lending Team

A little over one year into its acquisition of High Desert Bank, Mid Oregon Credit Union fills the void for former bank customers — and then some.

2/25/2020

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The story of how former bank executive, Steve Ferber, became a credit union champion is a fascinating one.

“The credit union has a strong community focus. That’s what it came down to. Serving our customers and serving them well.” 

That, in a nutshell, is how Ferber sums up his whirlwind journey that converted this bank executive of 30 years to Mid Oregon Credit Union’s Business Lending Ambassador.

Mid Oregon, the only locally headquartered financial institution in Central Oregon, acquired the assets and liabilities of High Desert Bank in 2018. The acquisition marks a small but growing trend across the country as credit unions step in to fill the void for consumers and small businesses as large national banks close doors in rural America and small community banks find the size and scale necessary to deliver efficiencies of operations elusive.

Ferber was serving as President and CEO of High Desert Bank, and, despite having a strong book of business, the bank did not have the capital necessary to grow and expand into the many services its customers required.

Ferber had conversations with other banks about a possible acquisition, but a deal never materialized.

“Other banks could have purchased us, but the fact is there wasn’t a lot of interest,” Ferber recalled.

After a last chance dance with a mortgage lending company in California fell through, Ferber appeared out of options.

“I knew if we didn’t cement that deal, the bank would likely close,” Ferber said.

He was concerned about how that would impact the many small-business owners and families that relied on the bank’s personal service and attention, as well as the lives of the bank’s employees.

Cue serendipity. Ferber had scheduled a casual lunch date with Mid Oregon Credit Union President and CEO, Bill Anderson. Anderson suggested that once the bank sold, he would like Ferber to come and run the credit union’s business lending division. Ferber then explained the lack of interest other banks had in acquiring High Desert. Heads scratched, sighs exchanged, and then the light switch powered on.

“Maybe we can help,” Anderson said. “What if we absorb your portfolio, keep your employees in their jobs, and help deliver your customers the services they need.”

One year later, it proved to be the perfect marriage. Ferber said High Desert Bank’s former business customers now have more services available and have increased their portfolios with the credit union as members. New businesses are also choosing Mid Oregon as their financial partner.

“It has truly been a huge win for small businesses in the community and for the credit union,” Ferber said.

Keeping a local community focus on benefits is crucial to that success. Ferber is perplexed when he hears national bank lobbyists criticize credit unions when they step up to the plate to join forces with struggling community banks.

Bank lobbyists continue to pound the drum that not-for-profit credit unions should not be purchasing assets of tax-paying banks, conveniently ignoring the fact that credit union members pay those taxes on the dividends they receive. They also miss the fact that when banks are acquired by credit unions, money that once paid lucrative dividends to stockholders instead filters out onto Main Street as a result of not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions reinvesting in their members.

“Credit unions and community banks have much more in common than they do differences,” Ferber points out. “The focus should be on what is best for your community. They would do better to focus on the loosely regulated online lenders than on credit unions.”

Ferber should know; he is a past board member of the Oregon Independent Community Bankers Association.

“The litmus test is what is best for your community. There is no doubt Central Oregon small businesses have benefitted from this partnership. In the end, that is what community service is all about.”

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