Merging Easy, Blending Cultures Is Hard

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LAS VEGAS-After all the talk of efficiencies and scale that comes with most CU mergers is finished, the tough job of bringing two cultures together begins.

Jennifer Lehn, Chair of the CUNA OpSS Council (Operations, Sales and Service), told Credit Union Journal she foresees "merger mania will continue" over the next 12 months, "which on the service side means melding two cultures," she said.

In many mergers, Lehn noted, a hard-charging, profitable CU absorbs one that is less successful, for any number of reasons. Integrating the two sets of employees can be "painful" for some, she said.

To help CUs address these and other operations issues Lehn, who is EVP for $1-billion Numerica CU, Spokane Valley, Wash., said the OpSS Council is doing its best to "get the most complete information available into a form our members can implement."

Two of the biggest issues in the three OpSS areas, she said, are how CUs can comply with a "barrage" of new regulations while still giving their members great service, and the double whammy of a struggling economy combined with NCUA assessments that are causing branch closures, layoffs and not replacing departed employees.

In the latter as well as the former, she said, the key is keeping up member service levels in the face of adversity. "Many of the new regulations require more disclosures and more signatures. In many cases, people come to credit unions for simple products. They trust their credit union to give them a fair loan. The regulations require many more hoops to jump through."

The OpSS Council continues to offer white papers, podcasts and, more recently, conference calls combined with slide shows that can be viewed online. Lehn said these "virtual roundtables" provide networking opportunities for CUs to discuss changes without travel costs. The virtual roundtables began 15 months ago. The council has hosted eight so far, with two more scheduled later this year.

The 2010 CUNA OpSS Council Annual Conference was, for the first time, co-located with the meeting for the CUNA Technology Council. Lehn said several sessions from the conference were recorded and are available online so conference registrants would be able to maximize their experience.

"We recently did a white paper on replacing lost fee income," she said. "Another big issue is many credit union professionals are experiencing career questions due to mergers, layoffs and branch closures. We want to keep professional development at the forefront."

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