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Major undertaking

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 11:00 a.m. December 25, 2015
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Being first, Gary Regoli has learned, isn't always easy.

The CEO of Dunedin-based Achieva Credit Union, Regoli and his team are behind a $23 million acquisition of Charlotte County-based Calusa Bank. Approved by government regulators Dec. 1, the deal is the first-ever whole bank acquisition by a credit union in Florida where all issued and outstanding shares were bought, according to Achieva executives.
Previous transactions between credit unions and banks were structured as purchase and assumption of only a majority of the assets and deposits.

The deal, in which Achieva, with nearly $1.4 billion in assets, paid a 1.36 price-to-book value for Calusa, was first announced in May. For 2016, says Regoli, the focus shifts to integration. The long to-do list includes everything from software and computer changeovers to reaching out to Calusa customers to training employees.

“Most of the hard work is in front of us,” says Regoli. “This takes a pretty robust team. It's a lot of hands.”

Achieva courted Calusa because it sought to expand into new markets and grow its presence on the Gulf Coast. The credit union had a branch in Sarasota, but wanted to penetrate deeper into the region in north Charlotte County and south Sarasota County. There was a sense of urgency in that mission, given the turnaround in Florida's economy and fast-growth population projections.

On the other side, Calusa executives wanted to get out of banking. Calusa President Todd Katz and co-founder Lew Albert launched the bank in 2007 and spent most of the first five years navigating through the downturn. Based in Punta Gorda, the bank grew to $165 million in assets and three branches in North Port, Port Charlotte and Venice, in addition to the headquarters. By early 2015 Katz, an attorney, wanted a career change and Albert wanted to retire.

A big plus in the deal was the bankers and the credit union executives clicked over culture and customer service approaches. Officials from both institutions say that made the buildup to a deal smoother than other complicated transactions.

Another hurdle was with regulators, a process that was particularly acute because of the unique nature of the deal. “We were blazing a trail,” says Regoli, “so we were addressing questions that had never come up before.”

The major steps for 2016 involve integrating software, systems and processes of the credit union into the former bank branches. A big part of that is working with Calusa employees, a group Regoli says is optimistic, with a small dose of trepidation. “There's a certain amount of excitement,” he says, “but it's a whole new world for them, and there's a lot to learn.”

Just as important as employees is the transition from Calusa customer to Achieva member. Achieva employees sent out letters and notices to all Calusa customers, per regulations, and about 50% of the total portfolio has already transferred to the credit union, says Regoli. Achieva executives expect to increase that total quickly in 2016.

The merger, in total, will bring Achieva's branch network to 24 locations. The credit union was founded in 1937 and now has more than 120,000 members in 10 counties on the Gulf Coast, from Hernando south to Collier.

“We are looking forward to completing this consolidation,” Regoli says. “This is a great opportunity.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon


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