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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 15, 2016 3 years ago

Second home

Lake Michigan Credit Union plans to grow in Southwest Florida by opening branches and possibly making acquisitions.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

You might see fewer Michigan license plates as winter visitors leave Southwest Florida, but you're going to see the state's name appear on more buildings across the region.

Since Lake Michigan Credit Union opened its first branch in Bonita Springs in the fall, President and CEO Sandra Jelinski says the lender plans to make a big push in Florida by opening branches and possibly making acquisitions. “Your market is fabulous,” says Jelinski, who purchased a home in Quail West in Naples last year.

Founded in 1933 as a teachers' credit union in Grand Rapids, Mich., the lender now has more than $4.3 billion in assets, 41 branches, 345,000 members and 1,000 employees. Jelinski, who started as a clerk with the credit union 30 years ago and rose through the ranks, has grown the credit union's assets tenfold during her 15-year tenure as the chief executive.

Within the next two to three years, Jelinski estimates that half of the credit union's assets will be Florida based. “We want this to be our second home,” Jelinski says.

Initially, the credit union will focus on opening branches in Southwest Florida. The next two branches to open this year will be in Naples on Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard.
She's scouting another branch in Fort Myers.

But Jelinski says the success of the first branch in Bonita Springs has been encouraging. “It's going really, really well,” she says, declining to be more specific. “It tells us our instincts were correct.”

Jelinski says the credit union could also grow through acquisitions. Recently, credit unions have been expanding by buying banks. “I think the timing is right for that kind of acquisition,” she says.

Because of capital constraints and the fact that any acquisition would be an all-cash deal, Lake Michigan Credit Union is scouting community banks with less than $500 million in assets. “We haven't found the right bank yet,” says Jelinski.

In researching its expansion into Florida, Jelinski says many of her customers in Michigan have roots in the Sunshine State. She estimates about half of the customers at the Bonita Springs branch come from Michigan, for example. “They want us to help them with their home loans,” she says.

But the credit union is attracting new customers, too. It has launched an advertising campaign that includes offering 3% interest on a checking account up to $15,000. In its marketing, the credit union's name has been modified to Lake Michigan CU of Florida.

Besides home loans, the credit union started lending money to businesses five years ago, mostly commercial real estate loans. That business is key in Florida, where commercial real estate loans are the bread-and-butter lending of Florida community banks.

For now, Jelinski says she's focused on the Fort Myers and Naples market. Another market that is appealing is the West Palm Beach area. Tampa and Sarasota hold less appeal because she says those areas already are saturated with credit unions. “We'll start here and see how this works,” Jelinski says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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