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Credit union vs. bank narrative gets rewrite

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  • | 11:00 a.m. May 8, 2015
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Consolidation in the Florida banking industry has taken an unusual turn: A credit union has acquired a bank.

In this case, Dunedin-based Achieva Credit Union, with $1.3 billion in assets, acquired Punta Gorda-based Calusa Bank, with $165 million in assets. The deal, in the works for several months, was announced Tuesday. Achieva paid $23.2 million for Calusa, or 1.36 price-to-book value.

It's the first credit union acquisition of a bank in Florida, say Achieva and Calusa officials, and the seventh nationwide.

Deals between credit unions and banks are rare for several reasons. The business models and missions are different, for one, and each side targets a separate customer base. Each side also answers to different regulators.

And, most notably, a long-standing war of words exists between banks and credit union officials, especially at the statewide and national level. The gist: Many bankers believe credit unions, especially big ones, have an unfair advantage by not paying taxes. Credit unions, says the other side, get the tax breaks because the organizations are nonprofit cooperatives and traditionally work with a population underserved by banks.

Calusa's four branches, in North Port, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Venice, will become Achieva offices later this year, pending approval of the deal from regulators and Calusa's board and shareholders. Achieva will send out letters to Calusa customers that both explain the deal and will be a regulatory-approved membership form. That last point is important, being credit unions are member-owned — a key distinction from banks. “We think (customers) will like what they get with us,” Achieva CEO Gary Regoli tells Coffee Talk.

Regoli says the deal started out in straightforward geography terms: Achieva has branches in Cape Coral and in Venice, but nothing in between. Calusa, founded in 2007, has a niche in that Charlotte County market Achieva misses. Regoli and his team were introduced to Calusa executives Todd Katz and Lew Albert through intermediaries and acquaintances. Says Regoli: “Sometimes it's the simple things that catch your attention.”

Regoli treated the potential acquisition like any other deal for a financial institution, in spite of the unique nature. Along the way Regoli says he discovered the similarities in culture between Achieva and Calusa outweighed the differences in structure. He admits it's corny, but Regoli says a focus on the customer is a focus on the customer, no matter what the name on the front door says.

“I think community banks like Calusa and credit unions like Achieva have a lot more in common than the trade associations and media would like people to believe,” says Regoli. “At the end of the day, it's all about culture.”


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