CUNA Mutual Group, the dominant insurance provider for U.S. credit unions, went to the Great North to tap a new chief executive officer.

On March 1, Michael Kitchen will take the reins as president and chief executive officer of CUNA Mutual in Madison, Wis.

Mr. Kitchen, 49, has been president of the Toronto-based Cumis Group of Canada since April 1992. Cumis Group, a mutual insurance company, is owned by Canadian credit unions and CUNA Mutual.

While there, he turned around Northern Canadian Shield, a subsidiary hit with heavy property and casualty losses. He also led the Cumis Group out of a severe financial crisis and established profitability.

Mr. Kitchen spent 11 years with Aetna of Canada and 12 years with Confederation Life Insurance Co.

"It was Mike's mastery of insurance and financial services, his years of experience, commitment to the credit union movement, and his first-hand knowledge of CUNA Mutual that made him such an excellent choice," CUNA Mutual Board chairman Ralph Canterbury said in a release.

But whether Mr. Kitchen's three years with the Cumis Group is enough to ingratiate himself with the close-knit credit union industry remains to be seen, said John Siefken, president of Citizens Equity Federal Credit Union. With $1.3 billion of assets, the Peoria, Ill., institution is one of the company's biggest premium payers.

"I find it rather amazing that a credit union insurance company doesn't have a single person in senior management who's ever worked at a credit union," he said. "We'll see if he sticks with insurance people and attorneys or if he gets out with credit union people. We're just going to have to take a wait-and-see approach."

Mr. Kitchen succeeds the retiring Richard M. Heins, who joined CUNA Mutual in 1956 and has been chief executive since 1988. He announced his retirement last year.

Mr. Siefken called Mr. Heins a "tough act to follow."

CUNA Mutual, which has $5 billion of assets, writes 99% of U.S. credit unions' fidelity bonds and offers a range of insurance and investment products.

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