Is This Who We Are? Part I: The Proposed Merger of PenFed and Sperry Associates FCU

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

Woody Guthrie “Pretty Boy Floyd”

On October 1, a Newsday business story described the member approval of Sperry Associations FCU’s ($278.4 million) merger with Pentagon FCU ($25.9 billion). Unlike most mergers there was no press release by either credit union. Even the Oct. 6 CUToday.info report was sourced from the Newsday story. Why is the ending of this sound 84-year-old, almost $300 million charter not announced by either party? Why the silence?

Is this just a routine merger of a sound, well-positioned, successful credit union? Or is it another instance of leadership and regulatory failures hollowing out credit unions from the inside? Does this acquisition serve Sperry’s 16,345 members’ best interests? Or, is it a self-serving exodus by senior management?

Another critical issue: is this merger a continuation of PenFed’s acquisitions spree shoring up its flailing financial and business model?

Who Is Sperry Associates FCU? The Right-Sized Credit Union & Its Proven Member Value

Sperry’s June 30, 2020 call report shows a single head office employing 39 persons serving 16,341 members. The credit union opened in 1936. Its FOM is anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school, volunteers, or conducts business in Nassau County, New York. Its estimated market is 1,357,700 potential members.

The June 30 financials show a well-capitalized net worth of 7.9%, delinquency of 1.15%, YTD loan originations up 69%, and twelve-month share growth of 4.5%. The website states the credit union is “financially healthy and well capitalized.”

The website further describes numerous examples of local community involvement and member support programs:

1. Mineola Athletic Association As a local member-owned financial institution, Sperry has partnered with local sports leagues and athletic venues in your community. From sponsorship of the sluggers who play at Mineola Athletic Association to being the official financial partner of Iceland in New Hyde Park, Sperry believes in taking stewardship of the next generation.

2. Proud to Be #MineolaMade

Sperry is proud to offer local products made by students at Mineola High School on display at our Garden City Park branch! . . .

3. Sperry Lends A Hand in Glen Cove, N.Y.

Recently, team members from Sperry Associates FCU were happy to lend a helping hand at the Island Harvest Senior Mobile Food Pantry in Glen Cove, N.Y. . . .

We Are Always Collecting to Benefit Long Island Cares with our Sperry Harry Chapin Food Bank Donation Bin!

4. Sperry Supports the Garden City Park Fire Department at Member Appreciation Day

5. Sperry Volunteers Prepare Meal for Families at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island

Members Come First: Extensive Member Service and Delivery Choices

Member value is portrayed on the website as follows:

Convenient Banking, Lending and More – All with Local Connections. From our quick and easy online loan applications to giving you 24/7 account access, Sperry makes sure your accounts are never out of reach. Need to bank-on-the-go? Our award-winning mobile app, available for Apple and Android devices, makes it easy. Even better, Sperry members have access to over 5,600 shared service centers and 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country

Our Members Come First. As a Sperry member, you are actually an owner, rather than a customer, of our financial institution. We don’t pay stockholders; instead we invest our earnings back to our membership – That means lower fees, better rates on loans, and higher rates on deposits! 

So, don’t miss out on experiencing the credit union difference of Better Rates…Better Service…Better Banking at Sperry! Branch hours are six days per week including Saturdays.”

In addition to these multiple service channels, the credit union provides a complete product line of consumer and mortgage loans (with rate locks), multiple savings options, and posts its full fee schedule.

One example of its multi-generational approach is a 5% Youth Savings and Youth Checking account with free Visa debit card. A financial counseling partnership with Greenspace is offered.

Sperry’s comprehensive locally focused member value is shown in this video that describes Sperry as a “right-sized credit union.”

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOHRHV4xsHM)

CEO Healy Affirmed Sperry’s Unique Value and Resilience in Two Op-eds

Sperry’s CEO has published several articles about the credit union’s unique positioning. In a Credit Union Times opinion article on July 17, 2020, CEO Healy asserted the credit union’s effectiveness responding to the COVID crisis [emphasis added]:

“At Sperry Associates Federal Credit Union ($273 million in assets), we’ve found a happy balance in maintaining the services and products our core members love such as free checking and competitive loan rates, while at the same time offering niche and specialized lending products that match emerging needs. These past few months, we’ve offered specialty loan products to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and we’ve been diligently working with our small business partners to secure for them Paycheck Protection Program funding. As community-centric institutions, our responsibility is to ensure that the friends and neighbors we serve are able to weather this storm.

“These products were the direct result of Sperry taking advantage of its market positioning. We’re a mid-sized credit union, member-owned and proudly serving the Long Island market for over 80 years. While we like to think bigger, we also act on the local neighborhood level.

“For the mid-sized institution looking to grow and better understand the pulse of the markets, it’s critical to put your organization’s best foot forward in the community. With a strong business development team at their disposal, executive management at a mid-sized firm can accurately assess these emerging needs and adapt their scope of services to meet them, all thanks to a boots-on-the-ground approach that is often not used by larger entities.

“Throughout the pandemic, which hit New York hard and is now spreading elsewhere, our team heard from friends, business owners and members that these larger events had local impacts, and using our community-rooted approached, we took action.

“A larger firm would have had to schedule meetings, create committees and navigate the rough waters of corporate politics, while a smaller firm would be working to enter the market. For us in the middle, we were the right size to react appropriately, all while using our internal talents to ensure that due diligence was conducted, and our solutions were beneficial to those we serve.

“In the end, it comes down to approach. By seeing the unique market challenges faced by a mid-sized organization as an opportunity, one can yield larger-than-life results.”

I quote this in full, because this appeared just eleven days before the credit union sent its Special Meeting Notice to members recommending merger with PenFed.

This was not the first time CEO Healy promoted the advantages of Sperry’s mid-size, strong local positioning. On March 29, 2019, CUTimes published his “expert opinion” extolling Sperry’s agility in a time of changing technology. Selected excerpts follow.

“. . .Despite the challenges these new approaches from unorthodox financial services competitors like Apple present, credit unions of all sizes still can thrive and grow with the right mix of strategic forethought.

“At Sperry Associates Federal Credit Union, we serve our membership within the highly competitive New York metropolitan region. As such, we’ve taken to embracing the philosophy that both member service and compelling products can offset some of the advantages that larger competitors such as Apple have at their disposal.

“The concept of member service still means something when it comes to banking, but the notion is further strengthened when paired with convenient, consumer-friendly products that make the lives of our members easier.

“For credit unions, which collectively are traditionally conservative and cautious institutions, a bit of private-sector risk-taking can pay off in the long run. In order to expand our horizons, Sperry closely monitors both market dynamics and changing trends – as such, we have have been seeing more and more shifts to the digital realm, as well as the need for more niche lending products. . . 

“In the end, a thriving credit union always serves the needs of its membership.”

Sperry’s members’ loss is most consequentially illustrated by the COVID environment. Comparing the two credit unions’ PPP loans as of June 30, Sperry reported 6 loans totaling $439,751; Pentagon, 100 times larger, reported $0. Given Sperry’s extraordinary capabilities and member focus, and the CEO’s public expressions of confidence, why did the Board and management decide to end Sperry’s independent charter?

In Part II tomorrow: Sperry’s brief explanation for merging.

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