New chief positive about Silver State Schools Credit Union


Andrew Hunter wasn't happy in retirement. After 30 years in the financial industry, which included more than six years as chief executive officer of Patelco Credit Union in San Francisco, Hunter thought he would enjoy a life of leisure.

But less than two years later, he was working part time as a consultant for Financial Benefits Credit Union in Alameda, Calif., and considering an offer to replace longtime Silver State Schools Credit Union CEO David Rhamy.

"At the time I retired ... I thought I was ready," Hunter said. "After a while it got a little stale and I found myself helping out as a consultant at my friend's credit union."

He said the opportunity to move to Las Vegas was "very attractive."

Hunter, whose career also included a stint at Schools First Credit Union in Santa Ana, Calif., took over Nevada's largest credit union on July 11 while it was still suffering from three years of recession.

Rhamy, 55, had been Silver State's CEO since 1999.

Silver State's earnings were hurt by high unemployment in Las Vegas, high delinquencies and foreclosures. Since 2008, the credit union has shrunk its asset size, closed several branches and reduced expenses.

Hunter said there are no plans to close more branches or lay off staff. Today, Silver State has $712 million in assets and operates 11 branches in Clark County and one in Reno.

"We have already closed a number of branches," he said. "We don't have any plans to either expand or contract."

Under a consent order, Silver State was forced more than a year ago to obtain a $22 million capital loan from its private insurer, American Share Insurance, with a subordinated note extended last March through 2015.

But Hunter, 61, said he's optimistic that Silver State is moving toward profitability. The credit union lost $2.8 million in the first half of 2011.

"I don't know if we'll earn back the money we lost in the first half of this year, but we'll be moving toward break even and moving forward -- we'll be growing our net worth again," he said.

In an interview, Hunter said the credit union was working well and generating more than $1 million a month. But it was still setting aside money for loan losses, he said.

"The loan losses in this economy are still significant. Our first priority is addressing the loan losses," he said. "Our second priority, is that we still think there is an opportunity to make good loans in Las Vegas to our members."

As of June 30, Silver State's allowance for loan losses was $28 million.

Hunter said the credit union has worked to reduce its loan losses, but it is a continuing process. He said he expects Steve Van Sickler, Silver State's new chief lending officer, to have a major effect on the credit union's lending policies.

"I don't want to paint him as a savior, but he has experience working in distressed lending markets," Hunter said. "He's coming from the Inland Empire."

Van Sickler, who begins his new position Tuesday, was most recently vice president of lending and collections at Visterra Credit Union in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Hunter dismissed any idea that the privately insured credit union might pursue a merger.

"A merger is not in the plans as we speak," he said. "Speaking realistically, every credit union these days on Page 157 under contingency plans, has "merger" somewhere. That's the reality."

He said Nevada schools still represent a viable membership despite layoffs and other challenges facing the Clark County School District.

"We've had our problems. But, having said that, the schools aren't going away. There will still be teachers, administrators and classified employees," he said. "The education community here deserves their own credit union."

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

 

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