St. Joseph credit union part of $6 billion merger

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A pair of West Michigan credit unions announced a merger Wednesday, which they said will create a top credit union in the U.S. with more than $6 billion in total assets.

St. Joseph-based United Federal Credit Union and Lake Michigan Credit Union, based in Grand Rapids, described the deal to be the “largest merger in credit union history.”

The combined organization will have total assets of more than $6 billion, over $8 billion in its mortgage servicing portfolio and 1,400 employees who will provide financial services and products to about 500,000 members at 78 locations across multiple states.

The organizations expect the deal to close by the end of the year, which is subject to closing conditions that includes regulatory approvals. The intent to merge was approved by the board of directors of both credit unions.

UFCU President and CEO Gary Easterling said the move was made to provide more resources and benefits to their members.

“We are very excited to merge with Lake Michigan Credit Union,” he said. “Both the UFCU Board and LMCU Board were unanimous in their approval of this merger. We view this as a tremendous opportunity for our employees and our members to combine with another great organization that will significantly expand our potential for mutual future success.”

LMCU President and CEO Sandy Jelinski said in a news release the merger will go smoothly due to the credit unions’ compatibility.

“I am extremely pleased to announce the merger of these two highly regarded credit unions,” she said. “Our similar cultures and complementary geographies and service strengths make this combination a natural fit. This is an exciting opportunity for the employees and members of both organizations to build the absolute best credit union in the country.”

Senior management from both organizations will remain in place. Jelinski will serve as the president and CEO of the merged credit union because Easterling announced his retirement earlier this year. Easterling said he will remain involved during the transition.

Small changes

Once merged, the combined organization does not anticipate any changes to staffing or branch offices.

Don Bratt, senior vice president of marketing for LMCU, said inquiries on a possible merger began this summer when Easterling announced he would be retiring. It was previously announced that Easterling would retire after finding a new CEO, but now he plans to retire after the transition is completed.

Bratt said the existing locations will retain their current name and branding, with UFCU becoming United Credit Union when the merger is complete. Both credit unions will be consolidated under the LMCU state charter, but will keep its headquarters for both credit unions in Grand Rapids and St. Joseph.

“We won’t be doing a physical move,” Bratt said. “(UFCU) is committed to their presence in their market. They have a strong brand name recognition. It’s familiar to their members and we decided to keep both brands. Also, they have a presence in five other states, so it wouldn’t make sense changing it to Lake Michigan Credit Union.”

UFCU Director of Marketing Charles Spilman said the St. Joseph-based credit union has always distributed its management and plans on continuing with that model after the merger is completed.

“We have officers in all our markets,” he said. “Some leadership will be in Grand Rapids, some leadership will be in St. Joseph and some will be in other markets.”

LMCU was founded in 1933 and is one of the largest financial institutions headquartered in Michigan. With a staff of nearly 940, LMCU has more than 360,000 members and 37 branch locations. UFCU has been around since 1949 and has about 140,000 members worldwide. UFCU employs 540 staff and maintains its corporate offices and main branch in St. Joseph. Out of the credit union’s combined 64 branches, Spilman said UFCU has 27.

UFCU has about $2 billion in total assets, while LMCU brings about $4 billion to the table. Other UFCU branch locations can be found in Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2015)

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