The city’s largest credit union, Kinetic, will soon be getting bigger as it prepares to absorb MEA Federal Credit Union, the two financial institutions said Wednesday.
“We’re real excited about joining forces and we really feel like together we’ll be better and be stronger for our members,” said Janet Davis, who has been chief executive officer of Kinetic Credit Union — formerly TIC Federal Credit Union — for 24 years.
Davis has been with Kinetic for 33 years altogether and will remain CEO of the merged credit union operation. MEA CEO Polly Propst Bell, who has been with the educator-based entity more than two decades, will remain with Kinetic, serving as education relations vice president.
The merger, which needs approval from the National Credit Union Association, is expected to be completed by April 1. Davis said there should be no problems or hurdles that would inhibit Kinetic and MEA from coming together.
“We don’t anticipate anything that would stop it, because we both are very strong credit unions,” she said. “They’re not making this decision because they’re failing. They’re making the decision that they want the best for their members going forward.”
Kinetic has seven branches in the Columbus-Phenix City market, along with 26 automated teller machines, while MEA has two offices and three ATMs in Columbus and a third branch in Valdosta, Ga.
Combined, they will have 159 employees — 130 of them now with Kinetic — and serve 49,000 members. With about $300 million in assets, Kinetic is the 9th-largest credit union in Georgia, while MEA is a distant 37th with just over $65 million in assets.
Davis said none of the Kinetic or MEA branches will be closed as part of the transition into one operation and, more importantly, no employees will lose their jobs.
“It is a win for our members — both Kinetic and MEA members — and it’s a win for the employees because they do have jobs,” she said. “A lot of times when these types of situations happen, people get laid off or they’re asked to do something crazy (when changing duties at work). We just feel like they’ve got great talent and we want to use that talent.”
MEA, in a letter to members from Bell and Edgar Lester, chairman of its board of directors, pointed out the credit union industry has gone through “many changes” in recent years. That includes facing costly technology upgrades that customers don’t just need, but demand in today’s computerized and smartphone-centric society.
“The cost and complexity of regulatory compliance continues to place a burden on smaller financial institutions, especially as operating margins remain at historically low levels,” Bell and Lester said in their letter. “Financial technologies are changing and evolving at a rapid pace with the expectation that all credit unions, regardless of size, provide the most up-to-date platforms.”
Thus, MEA’s management and board made the decision to look for a “partner” with which it could share “cost efficiencies,” while also finding someone who would honor its overall “legacy” of serving educators and education in the community.
“They’ve got some tremendous scholarships that they offer in the school system for employees. So we’re going to continue that,” said Davis, also mentioning the Golden Apple Award with WRBL and the Better Business Bureau Students of Integrity honors presented each year. “We’re going to ensure that the legacy they’ve created in the education world continues going forward.”
Both Kinetic and MEA said Wednesday that members, or customers, should not notice any difference in service and products offered by the combined credit union. No changes with accounts or accessing funds are anticipated.
“I’ve always been amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish at their size,” Davis said of MEA. “They’ve been very innovative in what they were doing. But there just comes a time when economies of scale and things like that give you greater efficiencies when you get larger. ... We really are honored that they’ve reached out to us.”
Davis noted Kinetic’s own seven-person board of directors will remain in place after the credit unions are merged.
Kinetic Credit Union dates to 1956 when it was founded as The Infantry Center Federal Credit Union to serve employees at Fort Benning. It has grown through the years, eventually opening its doors to the general public in surrounding counties — not just those connected to the military. The name was changed from TIC to Kinetic in 2014.
It was in 1960 that MEA was chartered as the Muscogee Educators Association Federal Credit Union, then shortened to MEA Federal Credit Union the following year. Its first meeting was held in a member’s home, with the operation moving in 1965 to a small office in the Cross Country Plaza area off Macon Road. The credit union has operated in a number of locations in the city through the years, with its Columbus branches today on Macon and Whitesville roads.