DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mark down Achieva CU as the latest credit union to buy a bank.

The $1.1 billion credit union announced it has signed an agreement to acquire Calusa Bank, a Florida state-chartered bank with $165 million in assets. The merger represents the seventh credit union acquisition of a bank nationally and the first time that trend has occurred in the Sunshine State.

Achieva CEO Gary Regoli said that a third party vendor the credit union works with suggested approaching Calusa about a purchase, and the bank — established just eight years ago — was game.

"The geographic location of their branches is appealing to us," Regoli told Credit Union Journal. "We're on the west coast, so we have branches in Sarasota County, the next county south is Charlotte, and the next county south is Lee. We have branches in Lee and Sarasota [but not Charlotte] and that's where three of their branches are, including their main office, so this fills a gap in our branch footprint."

While the two organizations have agreed on the deal, it must still be approved by regulators. Regoli said the plan is to have all of the necessary paperwork submitted by mid-June, with the hopes of completing the merger by year-end. But he emphasized that the job isn't done once the paperwork is filed.

"We're obviously doing some work with them throughout the proess to set the stage with learning about their products, learning their people, learning everything we can," said Regoli. "We don't just stop, even though at the end of the day the regulators have the final say."

All four Calusa branches will remain open as Achieva branches post-merger, but that doesn't mean that all of the bank's employees will be staying.

"We're not going to go in and say everybody gets to keep their job, but we are going to try to keep as many as makes sense," he said. "Certainly it's important to their customers to see familiar faces in the branches, so that's going to be one of our main objectives. But in any [merger] there's duplication, especially in the back office, so there might be some consolidation there."

Aside from acclimating employees to the Achieva culture, the CU will also have to sell the bank's customers — now credit union members — on the benefits of membership. And Regoli said he believes that the best people to do that are the Calusa staffers those customers already know and trust.

"Once we have an opportunity to talk to their staff and tell them who Achieva is and let them experience Achieva as much as we possibly can, we're pretty confident that they'll be able to talk to their customers and get them to opt in to credit union membership," he said. "We're pretty confident they're going to be able to encourage the customers to give Achieva the opportunity."

Todd Katz, Calusa's president, echoed those sentiments.

"We like the way they identify and reach out to their client base and their members," he said in an interview Tuesday with American Banker, Credit Union Journal's sister publication. "Let's face it, the regulatory burden that we've seen over the last few years has made it more difficult to make banking fun or profitable."

Much is often made of the differences between banks and credit unions, but Regoli said that one thing that made the merger such a natural fit was the similar mindset between credit unions and community banks.

"A lot of times in life you don't know somebody until you know them and you think certain things about someone until you know them, and I think that's one of the things the trade associations and media have emphasized is the differences between credit unions and community banks," he said. "Community banks, in more ways than people realize, are focused on the same things credit unions are. I really believe that. They're vested in their communities, they care about their employees, their customers. Their customers aren't members, [but] they're part of the family, so to speak. That's more like a credit union than a lot of entities."

 

--Kristin Broughton contributed to this report.

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