On most days, Joseph J. Cicione III knows nine out of 10 customers who walk through the doors of Alliance Blackstone Valley Credit Union.
At a little more than $44 million in assets, Pawtucket-based Alliance is one of Rhode Island’s smallest credit unions, and its members like that personal connection, says Cicione, Alliance’s CEO.
But being so small has its downsides, too. Having so few resources makes it difficult to compete in a marketplace that includes mammoth Pawtucket Credit Union and Navigant Credit Union, as well as a lineup of banks.
Cicione says that’s part of the reason why alliance is merging with Blackstone River Credit Union in Woonsocket, an institution with a similar lineage that has slightly fewer assets but more members.
Both credit unions have agreed to combine efforts in northern Rhode Island to ease the cost of complying with more stringent government regulations, as well as offer more products and features to an ever-demanding membership.
The merger officially takes place Sept. 30 and is the second involving credit unions announced in Rhode Island in recent months. In March, Warwick-based Wave Federal Credit Union agreed to absorb tiny Cottrell Credit Union, a $3 million institution in Westerly.
Some analysts have forecast that new financial regulations passed by Congress will lead to more consolidation among banks. But local representatives of the credit union industry weren’t so quick to make that prediction for credit unions.
Robert Kimmett, senior vice president at the Credit Union Association of Rhode Island, said the two Rhode Island mergers aren’t necessarily a signal that more of these deals are in the offing among the state’s remaining 22 credit unions, although he added, “Certainly, the possibility exists.”
Smaller credit unions, particularly those with fewer than $100 million in assets, will be under pressure to comply cost-effectively with new government regulations, industry representatives said.
At Alliance, for example, Cicione said he already serves double duty as the credit union’s compliance officer in order to keep expenses down. But that job will get that much harder with the new rules.
One of the pending changes that Cicione said could put pressure on the tiny credit union is limiting the amount of debit-card fees collected from merchants by banks and credit unions. The measure has been the focus of an intense effort by banking groups to have it overturned.
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