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Idaho credit unions grow through mergers, membership rule changes

photo of idaho central credit union

Idaho Central Credit Union. File photo.

What makes a financial institution successful? It depends.

“There is not a single factor that can explain growth,” said Lynn Heider, vice president of public relations for the NWCUA, which represents Idaho credit unions after its merger with the Idaho Credit Union League. “It could be particular loan promotions, employment groups that join a credit union, a bank pulling out of a rural community, and so on.” The top five credit unions gave varying reasons for their success.

Results from the fourth quarter of 2017 from the National Credit Union Association showed Idaho credit unions with the highest percentage asset growth, according to analysis performed by the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

In the case of Freedom Northwest, formerly Kamiah Community Credit Union, growth came from a change in the field of membership, said Scott Garrett, president and CEO. The credit union showed 39 percent asset growth, including 41 percent in real estate loans, 32 percent in auto loans, and 205 percent in business loans, according to NWCUA. Previously, members had to live in Lewis or Idaho counties; now, anyone who joins the Kamiah Chamber of Commerce and pays $20 can join, he said. That meant people in the more urban areas of Nez Perce County, and even Clarkston, Washington, can now join, he said.

photo of todd christensen

Todd Christensen

Members are drawn by Freedom Northwest’s approach to lending, which is more personalized because it keeps all the loans on its books rather than selling them on the secondary market, Garrett said. “The national market has 10 to 12 criteria, and you’re either in or you’re out,” he said. “They don’t tend to do well at evaluating items in the context of each other.” That approach also works with the properties themselves, such as bare land, properties over 20 acres, and those with shared road agreements – a common situation there, he said.

Second was Idaho State University Credit Union, with 34 percent asset growth composed of 8 percent real estate loans and 23 percent auto loans, according to NWCUA. The reasons for this growth were simple: Idaho State University Credit Union acquired Scenic Falls Federal Credit Union, of Idaho Falls, in 2017, said CEO Robert Taylor.

Third was Idaho Central Credit Union, with 25 percent asset growth, 25 percent real estate loan growth, 23 percent auto loan growth, and 40 percent business loan growth, according to NWCUA. No big change in particular accounted for that growth, said Laura Smith, director of public relations for the Chubbuck-based company.

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Laura Smith

“Our asset growth percentage is based on increases in real estate, auto and business loans,” she said. “We love that we get to help our members put down roots in Idaho by buying homes and starting businesses here. As we continue to grow membership and assets, we’re able to increase the products and services we offer as well as our support and investment in our local communities.”

Fourth was Capital Educators Credit Union, based in Meridian, with a 19 percent asset growth, 25 percent real estate loan growth, 17 percent auto loan growth, and 77 percent business loan growth, according to NWCUA. Growth was attributable to the addition of new members and growth in assets per member, said Todd Christensen, senior vice president of marketing and business development. The organization, which he believes is the oldest in the state, has branches throughout the Treasure Valley, as well as in Twin Falls, he said.

photo of members preferred credit union

Members Preferred Credit Union. Photo courtesy of MPCU.

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Greg Johnson

Fifth was Members Preferred Credit Union, based in Idaho Falls, with an asset growth of 12 percent based primarily on an 18 percent growth in auto loans, according to NWCUA. “As much as I’d like to think it’s something I did, a lot of it is the economy,” said Greg Johnson, president and CEO. “Most of it is used car loans.” Members also changed its field of membership a few years ago, from medical and professional. “Mostly it’s just been word of mouth,” he said. “We don’t do advertising at all, actually.”

This story was corrected May 2 to show that Scott Garrett said membership used to be limited to anyone who lives in Lewis or Idaho counties.

About Sharon Fisher

Sharon Fisher is an Idaho Business Review staff writer, covering financial institutions, technology, and business development. She holds a bachelor of science in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a masters in public administration and graduate certificates in geographic informational analysis and in community and regional planning from Boise State University. She likes explaining things and going to meetings. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_SLFisher.