NorthCountry Federal Credit Union of South Burlington now operates the Granite Hills Credit Union of Barre and Montpelier. At a special meeting in June, Granite Hills Credit Union members approved their board of directors’ recommendation to merge with NorthCountry.
The agreement between the two credit unions was both a merger and an acquisition, according to Brian Jaffarian, public relations specialist for NorthCountry.
“It was a merger for Granite Hills and an acquisition for NorthCountry,” he said. “The process began when Granite Hills Credit Union members made the strategic decision to find a merger partner. They then distributed an RFP (request for proposals), and ultimately chose to merge with NorthCountry.”
One main reason for the merger was the small size of the two credit unions. “Smaller credit unions nationwide are finding it more difficult to cover the costs associated with increased regulations and rapidly changing technologies,” Jaffarian said.
Susan Poczobut, former CEO of Granite Hills and now a member of the NorthCountry management team, agreed.
“There is an increased pressure on all small businesses, but especially small credit unions, to keep up with new technologies, but most especially, new regulations that are imposed upon us on a regular basis. With a small staff, it was a balancing act to be able to offer the same services as our larger competitors while staying in compliance with the regulations,” Poczobut said.
The two credit unions started discussions about the merger in April 2017 and completed the merger Oct. 1. The Granite Hills Board of Directors approved the merger at its May 2017 meeting, and the members approved the merger in June.
Granite Hills was the smaller of the two credit unions, with 2,600 members and $40,194,000 in assets. With the addition of the Granite Hills members and its two branches, NorthCountry now has 44,110 members, total assets of $582,084,000 and 12 branches.
Poczobut said the decision by Granite Hills to merge with NorthCountry was made, in part, because the two organizations shared the same mission.
“NorthCountry’s business philosophy and mission statement mirrored Granite Hills’. Many of NorthCountry’s members also had accounts with Granite Hills. With our two excellent locations in downtown Barre and the National Life building, it seemed a perfect fit for both our members and NorthCountry’s members,” she said.
“We are so pleased to have additional locations to serve our friends in central Vermont,” said Bob Morgan, CEO of NorthCountry. “We look forward to getting to know the people of Barre and Montpelier, and working together and to create a meaningful and positive impact for the community and for our members.”
According to Morgan, the two credit unions have worked side-by-side in Washington County for many years and shared a commitment “to providing members with a world-class experience through value, convenience, and investments in the community.”
No big changes are anticipated for Granite Hills staff. “Both Granite Hills locations will remain open, and all Granite Hills employees are now employed by NorthCountry. Our goal now is to further introduce our new members to the products and services now available to them through NorthCountry,” Morgan said.
The merger went smoothly, according to both Morgan and Poczobut. In the months leading up to the system conversion, a team of employees from both credit unions worked together to ensure the accurate transfer of data, order new debit and credit cards, communicate changes to account holders and merge the Granite Hills branches into NorthCountry’s network.
“It was a lot of work, but produced our desired outcome of a seamless transition, with minimal inconvenience and stress for our new members,” Morgan said.
For the Granite Hills members there were no changes, except that they had to switch their credit and debit cards to NorthCountry. An information packet was mailed to each member in early September.
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives, owned by their account holders. Earnings are typically paid back to the account holders, according to Jaffarian, “In the form of better-than-market rates, fewer and lower fees, and free services.” Granite Hills Credit Union started in January 1952 as a credit union for National Life employees. In February 1952, National Life Employees Credit Union was granted a charter by Vermont. In 1999, it was granted a Community Charter, allowing expansion of membership to include anyone who lived or worked in Washington County. In 2002, the expansion included Orange County, and the name was changed to Granite Hills Credit Union.
NorthCountry Federal Credit Union is open to anyone who lives or works in northern Vermont. It commits 10 percent of its previous year’s revenue to community giving. It was organized in 1950, and is the third-largest credit union in Vermont. Deposits at the credit union are insured to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration.