ARVADA, Colo.-For as much as credit unions preach the virtues of collaboration, one person worries that the pressures of business are preventing that from actually happening.

"I have to wonder if it isn't just that competition has gotten so tough between us that we're starting to realize that we have to get an edge in order to compete, and if we're sharing everything all the time, we may lose that little advantage we need to stay in the game," said Sundie Seefried, CEO at Partner Colorado CU here and a member of the Mountain West Credit Union Association.

Seefried acknowledged that the Denver market is "pretty competitive," with banks and CUs competing pretty aggressively. She noted that members are quite savvy, spreading accounts between multiple credit unions, which she speculated leads to a hesitancy among credit unions to collaborate for fear of losing any piece of their marketshare.

Seefried believes that while collaboration certainly is not dead, it is more likely to happen at smaller CUs than at their larger counterparts.

"I think there's a real desire (to collaborate) but I think a lot of that alienation has come from that whole merger aspect and the discomfort that comes from people being afraid they were doing things for each other because perhaps a merger was in the back of their head."

Lesson From League Merger

But Seefried added that the three-state merger that created the Rocky Mountain CU Association-which serves credit unions in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming-could benefit small CUs, especially when it comes to collaboration.

"Everything has to be done more remotely now, and when you get more remote, smaller credit unions win even more, because before they couldn't get to that centralized location, so remote services serve them better. That's my take on how we've all won, but small CUs have gained even more from the merger."

Seefried serves on the board for the Mountain West CU Association.

Seefried said that the Association and the Rocky Mountain CU Alliance are looking into different ways to collaborate themselves, including the possibility that the Association may serve small CUs well enough that the Alliance might eventually not even be necessary.

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