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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 11 months ago

Credit union makes small — but mighty — acquisition

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Pinellas County-based Achieva Credit Union targets growth across the bay.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Achieva Credit Union, much like other Gulf Coast financial institutions, significantly grew its customer base in 2020 by being quick to respond to and process Paycheck Protection Program loans. With big banks overwhelmed by the sheer volume of loan work, Achieva and many peers, banks and credit unions alike, proved their value to small businesses that needed PPP funds to survive. 

'The network of Achieva will absolutely be phenomenal in reaching current and potential Coast 2 Coast members all along the Gulf Coast.' Sharmon Lenth, Achieva Credit Union

Now, thanks to a strategic acquisition, the Dunedin-based credit union — which dates back to 1937, when it was founded by a group of Pinellas County teachers — is set to add about 2,000 members and, notably, a coveted presence in Tampa. 

Though the deal likely won’t win final approval until the end of March, Achieva has agreed to acquire Coast 2 Coast Financial Credit Union, a Tampa-based institution that has $24 million in assets and a Sabal Park banking center that will be converted to an Achieva branch. The National Credit Union Administration and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation approved the merger, according to a press release. 

“The members at Coast 2 Coast, I know many of them, and they’re excited because Achieva has a lot to offer,” says Sharmon Lenth, vice president of Achieva’s Hillsborough County market. “Certainly first and foremost, a large branch footprint.”

Lenth, prior to joining Achieva in December 2019, spent nearly nine years with Coast 2 Coast, where she served as CEO and board treasurer. Her background also includes stints with Bay Gulf Credit Union, Florida Customs Federal Credit Union and USF Federal Credit Union. But her familiarity with Coast 2 Coast didn’t play a major role in the deal, other than starting some conversations. 

“It just made sense from a service aspect and the branch footprint,” Lenth says. “The network of Achieva will absolutely be phenomenal in reaching current and potential Coast 2 Coast members all along the Gulf Coast.”

Meanwhile, for Achieva, with $2.03 billion in assets and 161,411 members, according to National Credit Union Administration data, a deal for a $24 million credit union with one location is relatively small. (Terms of the Coast 2 Coast acquisition were not disclosed.) Achieva has made splashier deals, too. That includes buying Calusa Bank in Charlotte County in 2015 and Preferred Community Bank in Lee County in 2018. 

But Coast 2 Coast, even at its smaller scale, offers Achieva a road to a new customer base: logistics. That's because Coast 2 Coast's membership is made up mostly of Teamsters and UPS drivers scattered across Florida and Georgia. 

“Coast 2 Coast is heavily geared toward transportation and the trucking industry,” Lenth says, “and we all see, now more than ever, that the trucking industry has exploded. The transportation of goods and consumer shopping has changed so much in this new normal.” 

With companies like Amazon and UPS continuing to expand and hire in Florida to keep up with population growth and rising demand for home delivery of products, that means more members for Coast 2 Coast, whose membership infrastructure will have the backing of Achieva’s more robust marketing power and reach. “We'll be able to reach a lot of those potential members that we absolutely could not have under the Coast 2 Coast umbrella,” Lenth says. 

Courtesy. Sharmon Lenth, Achieva Credit Union’s Hillsborough County market vice president.

The deal won’t bring major personnel changes to the respective institutions, Lenth says. All Coast 2 Coast staff members will be retained, though interim President and CEO Bruce Koehler, who came out of retirement to lead Coast 2 Coast through the M&A process, is expected to step down. “He was brought on to facilitate and make sure it was a seamless merger,” Lenth says. 

The Coast 2 Coast transaction could also signal the start of another expansion phase for Achieva. The credit union has been fairly selective with acquisitions, making four over the past 10 years, most recently the Preferred Community Bank deal, which gave it a foothold in Lee County. 

But while Lenth won’t say if Achieva plans additional acquisitions, she says the credit union’s presence in Hillsborough County will almost certainly grow in 2021. Achieva would also like to expand in the Sarasota-Manatee market. 

“We have a very aggressive growth agenda and budgets for 2021,” she says. “We are hopeful that by the fourth quarter of 2021 we will have two additional locations in Hillsborough County. It’s going to be a very busy year.” 

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