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Maine league lends biz model expertise to British CUs
PORTLAND, Maine (8/31/12)--To help meet a growing demand for member services, Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL) Chief Executive Mark Lyonette visited the U.S. last week to learn how a central business model developed for credit unions in Maine could be adapted for the British credit union system.

Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL) Chief Executive Mark Lyonette met with the Maine Credit Union League's Synergent subsidiary last week to learn how a central business model could be adapted in the United Kingdom. From left are John Murphy, Maine Credit Union League and Synergent president/CEO; Brian Branch, World Council of Credit Unions president/CEO; Mark Lyonette, ABCUL chief executive; and Gary Glenn, Synergent senior vice president.
Credit unions in the United Kingdom recently reached the million member milestone, but many institutions remain relatively small and financially restricted in terms of product and service development. As such, ABCUL's member credit unions have petitioned the trade association for a shared business model to centralize data processing and offer more products and services to an even broader population base. A data service bureau also would help reduce the number of third-party service providers the credit unions would otherwise have to contract with separately.

At ABCUL's request, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) organized Lyonette's visit to Maine last week to learn how Maine Credit Union League's credit union-owned subsidiary, Synergent, has managed a central business model for 41 years.

Originally named the Maine Credit Union League Services Corp., Synergent was founded as a form-ordering service. Within a few years, it established a data processing center to meet the growing needs of Maine credit unions. Today, Synergent provides checking, ATM debit cards, shared branching and direct marketing services for credit unions. Synergent's operations also include writing custom code in response to credit unions' requests for tailored products and services.

Mark Lyonette, ABCUL chief executive, speaks with Roger Sirois, Atlantic Regional FCU president/CEO, about the advantages Atlantic Regional has experienced with a central processing system. (Photos provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
"Many centralized credit union systems achieve efficiencies by offering the same products for all credit unions," said Brian Branch, WOCCU president/CEO, who joined Lyonette in Maine last week.

Branch noted that Maine's core data processing system offers several choices for add-on products that allows credit unions to achieve both efficiency and entrepreneurial innovation in serving members.

Synergent, a credit union service organization, generates $27 million in revenue and $10 million in data processing annually. Its products and services reach about 600,000 members in northern New England, New York and southern Connecticut. The company bills credit unions per member rather than per transaction, and longer contract terms lower the per-member fee.

During his visit, Lyonette met with executives from Evergreen CU in Portland and Atlantic Regional FCU in Brunswick. Atlantic Regional FCU, with 18,300 members and $250 million in assets, began using Synergent's services in 1982. President/CEO Roger Sirois explained how shared branching has helped the credit union reduce expenses so it could keep branch offices closed on Saturdays when members can access services through other credit unions in the network.

Sirois emphasized the importance of the core processing system's flexibility, which he said drives innovation and allows small credit unions to offer a choice of products on par with larger financial institutions. He said that 2011 was the first time walk-in traffic at Atlantic Regional FCU was less than its Web traffic.

John Murphy, president/CEO of the league and Synergent, saw the opportunity to work with World Council to host ABCUL as a chance to help strengthen credit union popularity in the United Kingdom.

"The Maine league, Synergent and Maine's credit unions are committed to sharing information and collaborating with other credit union systems around the world to strengthen credit unions and promote growth globally," Murphy said.

The league and Synergent previously hosted similar visits with officials from the Rwandan credit union movement, Murphy noted.
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