Proposed Merger of Northern and Countryside

 Proposed Merger of Northern and Countryside

We’re excited to announce the proposed merger of Northern Credit Union and Countryside Federal Credit Union. The Board of Directors of each credit union, the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) and the NYS Department of Financial Services (DFS) have unanimously approved this partnership. Through it, we seek to create more value on multiple levels for both institutions, who share common roots in the commitment to serving our communities and living the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”

 We want to hear from you!

As always, members and employees remain our top priority. Through this merger, we seek to continually improve services for your benefit, and we invite you to call us, email us, or stop by to share your thoughts and ask any questions you may have. We genuinely value your membership and know we owe our success to you. When you chose to bank with us you joined a cooperative owned by its members and have a stake and an equal voice in the future direction of YOUR Credit Union. Click here to see the Member Questions section below!

 CEO and Board Chair Message

Learn more about the proposed merger of Countryside and Northern Credit Union in this podcast conversation about the many benefits of the partnership with Northern’s and Countryside’s CEOs, Board Chairs and Tom Glatt.

 Listen to the podcast here:

(click here to read the audio transcript)

 

   Dan St. Hilaire, Northern President and CEO

For the past 20 years, Dan has served Northern as a proven visionary industry leader having successfully led three additional credit unions throughout his 35- year career. NCU’s award-winning, people-first culture is a reflection of Dan’s leadership philosophy and is solidly supported by its core values, leadership credo, vision and mission and is consistently demonstrated by its nearly 130 internal owners and dedicated volunteer groups. Dan lives in Sackets Harbor with his wife, Darcy, of 40 years. Together they have been blessed with 3 children and 8 grandchildren. Dan is an active member of the community and enjoys family get togethers, friendships, boating, camping, golfing, watching and cheering on grandkids that play sports, performance dancing, school concerts and band events, and so much more! Dan and Darcy were born and raised in Maine. In 1981, Dan earned a Business Administration degree from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.


   Ben Gasser, Countryside President and CEO

Ben has served as both Chief Financial Officer and President and CEO of Countryside over his ten-plus year career and has dedicated himself to helping improve the financial lives of members through these roles. Ben lives in Cleveland, New York with his wife Lisa and daughter Jennifer, who is currently attending the University of Buffalo majoring in biology. When Ben’s not spending time with his family you can find him enjoying all the outdoor pursuits our amazing community affords each season including, skiing, snowmobiling and playing golf. Ben earned his Bachelor of Science in Accounting from SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica.

 

      Mitch Franklin, Chair, Board of Directors, Countryside

Mitchell Franklin PhD., CPA is an associate professor of accounting at the Le Moyne College Madden School of Business, in Syracuse, New York.  His research interests include the impact of tax law on taxpayer behavior, and pedagogical issues in both taxation and financial accounting.  Dr. Franklin has published over fifty articles in journals that include Issues in Accounting Education, Advances in Accounting Education, Journal of Taxation, Tax Notes, and Tax Adviser. Dr. Franklin presently serves on the editorial board of Issues in Accounting Education and is an associate editor for The Accounting Educators’ Journal.  Professionally, Dr. Franklin currently serves as President of the American Accounting Association Northeast Region and serves as Chair of the 2023 American Taxation Association Conference for Teaching and Learning.  Prior to joining Le Moyne College, Dr. Franklin served on the accounting faculty at the Syracuse University, Whitman School of Management for fifteen years.  Dr. Franklin started his involvement with Countryside Federal Credit Union Board of Directors in 2010 and became Chair of the Board in 2013.  Upon final approval, Dr. Franklin will be joining the Board of Directors for Northern Credit Union.

Click here to hear from Mitch
Franklin on the proposed merger.


   Gary Rowe, Chairman of the Board, Northern

Before entering private practice, Gary was the Controller for regional franchisor Jreck Subs, Inc. Prior to that Gary was the Fiscal Officer/Controller for the Development Authority of the North Country, a New York State Public

Benefit Corporation. At the Authority, Gary was charged with overseeing the financial matters of the Authority which, at the time was building and operation of the sewer/water lines for the first expansion of Fort Drum, NY, building associated off post housing for the families of military dependents and the $28 million Solid Waste Landfill in Rodman, NY, which at the time was the first state of the art solid waste facility authorized by the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.  Gary’s family promoted the famed Watertown Speedway and in 1974 his family was involved with the purchase of the Can Am Speedway, which is still a major dirt track facility in New York State.  Gary spearheaded the drive to make the DIRT Hall of Fame, where his father is enshrined,  a Non‐profit entity. He is also Board Chair for the Northern Credit Union and Board Chair of Carthage Area Hospital.

 

 FAQ’s

Below are some additional details on what the combined credit union would look like:

 Name: On the effective date of the merger, neither credit union will change its name and Countryside will be referred to as a “division of Northern Credit Union.”

 Membership: Anyone who lives, works, worships, or goes to school in Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton counties and their immediate family would be eligible for membership.

 Leadership: Northern’s current President/CEO Dan St. Hilaire will lead the combined credit union along with the senior leadership team of both credit unions. Ben Gasser, Countryside CEO/President, will stay on through the merger process in support of the team, board, and membership and then plans to pursue other career interests after 11+ years of dedicated service to the Credit Union.

 Governance: Two board positions will be reserved for Countryside along with one seat on the Supervisory Committee. Countryside members are invited to take part in the governance process, that will not change post-merger.

 Employees: The credit union will continue to provide career opportunities to employees of both organizations as a result of the partnership. Countryside FCU team members will experience greater career growth opportunities, training resources and competitive employee benefits as part of a larger organization.

 Headquarters: Northern’s existing Watertown office will serve as the main office.

 Size: The combined credit union would have approximately $609.3 million in assets and serve more than 41,000 members.

 Locations: There will be a total of ten locations in Onondaga, Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. There will also be access to fee-free Shared Branching and ATMs throughout the nation.

 NCUA Insurance: Your savings will continue to be federally insured to at least $250,000 and backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government. Through the National Credit Union Administration, a U.S. Government agency.

 About Countryside: Countryside Federal Credit Union currently serves Onondaga County, New York and operates with one branch location. They have over $167 Million in assets and serve nearly 5,000 members. Countryside FCU was chartered in 1941 as the GLF (Grange League Federation) Employee Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, NY. In 1964, following mergers within the agricultural community, they began to serve Agway employees. In 1966 GLF Federal Credit Union became Agway Employees Federal Credit Union. In 1991 the name was changed to Agway Federal Credit Union, a reflection that membership had expanded out into the general community and that most members were no longer just Agway employees. In January 1995, the credit union separated from Agway Inc. and became Countryside Federal Credit Union, a further reflection of their expanded member base. 

 About Northern: Northern is a top-tier credit union in New York with 9 locations throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, with more than 36,000 members, over 442 million in assets and more than 123 employees. Northern was founded in 1955 as New York Air Brake Federal Credit Union. In 1982, with steady growth they became NYAB/Tri-County Teachers Federal Credit Union, before becoming Northern Federal Credit Union in 1996. Since converting to become a state-chartered credit union in 2018, Northern has grown to serve anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties.

 What can you expect?

Some examples of how we all benefit include:

  • Expanded and improved products and services: As a larger combined credit union, Countryside FCU can offer the same products offered by Northern CU including investment services, rewards checking accounts including high-rate dividends, cashback and ATM fee refunds, more mortgage options, rewards-based credit cards, student loans (new and refinance), financial counseling for all ages including children and young adults, real estate solutions, and commercial banking including lending and merchant services. With a fee structure in place lower than the average credit union of its size, Northern Credit Union shares a similar philosophy with Countryside FCU of providing superior service with lower costs for their members. After the merger, Northern will gain a stronger presence in Onondaga County with a base of 5,000 members and benefit from a strong infusion of net worth to fuel future growth and prosperity.
  • Technology: Innovative technology will allow Countryside to provide best-in-banking services to members including chat, text, video banking, digital wallets (Google and Apple Pay), 24/7 phone support, text and email account alerts, SMART Office remote assist support, live assist advanced ATMs, robust digital banking for desktop and mobile and a host of other banking-on-the-go services.
  • Increased efficiency of operations and economies of scale: Economies of scale and the efficiencies of operations could be realized through a merger. Back-office support costs, as well as increased regulatory compliance costs in areas ranging from audit expenses to BSA/OFAC documentation, will be economized considerably through a merger. Joint purchasing through the larger scale purchasing power will also bring considerable savings.
  • Greater access to banking: Northern CU operates nine (9) facilities, while Countryside FCU currently operates one. In addition, Northern CU is part of a nationwide shared branching and ATM network resulting in greater credit union access for the current Countryside FCU membership. Northern is committed to expanding the number of locations and full-service kiosk locations within Onondaga and Madison counties.
  • Member service: The Member Relations Teams at Northern and Countryside are both dedicated to always doing right by the member. Employees will continue to be provided extensive training in a variety of member service areas including transactions, member support, digital services, new accounts and lending. Team members follow a core competency rubric to ensure consistency and excellence in member service.

Next Steps: 

We have received regulatory approval from both the National Credit Union Association and the New York State Department of Financial Services. To complete the partnership merger, we will need two different affirmative votes from the Countryside membership.

  • Vote 1: Voting to approve a merger partnership between Countryside Federal Credit Union and Northern Credit Union. This vote is needed to proceed with the partnership merger. You have received a ballot and postage-paid return addressed stamped envelope in the mail to cast your vote. You will also be able to vote in person at a special meeting on August 1, 2022.
  • Vote 2: Voting to approve Countryside Federal Credit Union to transition from a federally chartered credit union to a state-charted credit union. This vote is needed so that we can partner with Northern Credit Union, as they are a state-charted credit union. You will receive a ballot and postage-paid return addressed stamped envelope in the mail to cast your vote in mid-July. You will also be able to vote in person at a special meeting at Countryside Federal Credit Union’s Administrative Offices, 5720 Commons Park, East Syracuse, New York, on Monday, August 1, 2022 at 5:00 P.M.

 

Member Questions

We’ve received some questions from Members and recognize others may have similar thoughts, so are sharing answers here for everyone!

 Will Northern support charities important to Countryside’s membership?

Northern is committed to continuing support of charitable causes important to Countryside, and among others will donate to the Agway Retirees Luncheon, the Alzheimer's Association, Score and the Central New York Food Bank, all worthy charities that have been long supported by Countryside. In 2021, Northern strengthened the communities they serve by giving back more than $189,000 to 120 organizations to educate, feed, and support those in need. Northern is proud to be part of the community and even prouder of their commitment to giving back to the places they call home—and the people they call family. 

 How will Northern help Countryside take advantage of economies of scale?

Since Northern is a larger Credit Union, it can share its buying power with Countryside to create costs savings and offer better products and services to members. For example, Northern will enable Countryside members to join their best-in-class Online and Mobile Banking platform and fee-free shared ATM network at a substantial cost savings while improving access to high quality banking solutions. Northern has made tremendous financial investments in its facilities and technology and will offer these same advantages to Countryside members.

 How does Countryside’s capital position and Northern’s strategy for growth align?

Northern has a great deal of experience with sustained, healthy growth in membership, geography and technology to better support its members. With Northern’s expertise, guidance, and history of strong investment, Countryside will be able to expand and successfully compete in today’s market where consumers demand access to numerous 24/7/365 self-serve transaction and communication options, ultra-convenient remote technology such as Video Banking, that enables members to have private and secured loan or new account discussions from anywhere, including their home or workplace, in or outside of NY, fee-free shared ATM access and more. Northern’s growth strategy is also based on investing in communities and a desire to offer an array of convenient solutions to meet the needs of individuals from all walks of life. Northern’s philosophy is that extra capital should be used to improve services for members in the form of increased dividends, lower loan rates, improved services, better infrastructure, expanded branch locations and robust technology to improve access and convenience. If needed, Northern also has access to low cost funds because of its strong relationships, superior credit rating, and excellent track record. Countryside is financially strong and will grow together with Northern to support our current members better and expand our offerings to new members.

 What’s Northern’s philosophy on lending?

While the big banks see you as a number, like Countryside, Northern believes there’s more to you than just a credit score. They always put people first and believe each member has a stake and an equal voice in the future direction of their Credit Union. You will be treated with the utmost respect and appreciation; whether you have $50 or $500,000 on deposit or whether you have a small or large loan balance. Northern has no outside shareholders, and all decisions are made locally and earnings are returned to members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher dividends, fewer fees, better service and modern technology.

 Is Northern’s balance sheet well positioned for the economic downturn?

Northern is on strong financial footing to weather any economic downturn and still provide members of both Credit Unions with superior products and services. Northern’s loan delinquency over the past 3 years has been below other comparable credit unions. (Approximately .42% in 2020, .18% in 2021, and .31% in 2022.) Northern currently has a robust allowance for loan loss that adequately protects members and the organization against potential losses that may occur in the loan portfolio. Northern’s loss ratio is also below the industry average. (Approximately .271% in 2019, .166% in 2020, and .178% in 2021.)  In addition, all member deposits will remain federally insured by the NCUA up to 250K.

 What opportunities does Northern offer leaders to ensure a positive working environment for everyone?

Northern has received recognition as a top 10 best credit union to work for, across the country, on four occasions, representing each year they participated in the rigorous anonymous survey process. Northern offers one-on-one coaching on shared leadership principles and participates in ongoing feedback to continually improve leadership skills. The same opportunities will be afforded all leaders at Countryside. Regardless of title, Northern respects all internal owners (employees) feedback, ideas, etc. equally, and are empowered to make day to day decisions, influence direction and more. Northern believes in putting people first, whether that’s employees, members, or individuals in the communities they serve.