Bank That Is Subsidiary Of Canadian CU Performs 'Beyond Expectations'

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Ubiquity Bank, the virtual bank chartered by Prospera Credit Union as a means of serving people living outside of the CU's provincial charter, won't celebrate its first birthday for a few months, but look for things for both the bank and its parent in 2005.

"The bank has been a huge success," said Keith Puiu, CEO of Prospera CU, which chartered the bank because there is no federal charter that would allow the credit union to grow beyond its provincial boundaries in Canada. "Ubiquity has had double the growth in deposit than we had planned, and a lot of those are coming from Eastern Canada. We are very happy with the bank; it's been beyond our expectations."

Puiu is a 30-year veteran of the banking industry, and a number of his senior management team also have banking backgrounds, so they were "quite comfortable" with bank operations prior to the Ubiquity endeavor. Even so, he noted that "the credit union world is totally different from the banking world."

To ensure that the two institutions don't compete with each other, Ubiquity's marketing plan calls for focusing on areas that Ubiquity doesn't serve. But as the fledgling bank's name implies, it's almost everywhere due to its cyber nature. "It's a virtual bank like ING, so it's very different from a bricks-and-mortar operation," he explained. "But our products are not the same as ING and the others. They're totally rate driven, which means people go where the best rate is. We have competitive rates but wanted something that keeps people working with us."

Tying People To The Bank

For example, Ubiquity has a high-end package of products and services that allows the customer to have checks tied to the account so they have greater access to their funds. "Plus we have more than 100 ATMs where they can access their account, so they're not as restricted in terms of getting their money," Puiu observed. "We also tie a line of credit to the account as well as a platinum MasterCard. People really like that. It helps tie people to Ubiquity Bank."

Because the bank isn't even a year old, yet, the primary plan for 2005 is to maintain its current strategy, but Puiu hinted big changes could be coming, despite that plan.

"The bank's very new, so our strategy is to stay the course," he offered. "But we are already looking at some other interesting opportunities, which I am not at liberty to talk about. But if some of these others things work out, we could have some very big, important changes. But I don't count on them until we have them."

Ubiquity will also start to get into commercial lending.

"Our original business plan called for bricks and mortar in year three or four, but I'm not sure we'll go that route," he added.

Although there were a couple of people hired for Ubiquity Bank, the vast majority of the work is actually done by Prospera CU staff, which are all on contract to the bank. Although it is largely staffed by CU personnel, the tight regulation of the banking industry required that Ubiquity have its own separate board of directors.

As for the credit union, Prospera has logged its fourth record year for profitability and has been cited as one of the fastest growing CUs in Canada.

"We will continue to grow, and we are going to be moving into another region," he related. "We are the only credit union to have moved from the coast into the interior. Our geographic spread is getting quite large."

Fueling that growth are the four acquisitions of insurance firms, Puiu said, but the jewel in the Prospera crown will be the new branch it plans to open in 2005.

"It will be at Fifth and Gravel Street in Vancouver, which is like our Maida Vale of London," he explained. "It's a very high-end location, so the branch will be a very high-end branch. Really, it will be like no other credit union branch."

The new branch is being located in an old building that will keep its historic fa?ade but will essentially have a new building built inside of it.

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