Herring legacy carried forward with merger

September 18, 2014

CINCINNATI, Ohio (9/19/14)--At the end of the day, the planned merger between Cincinnati Arts CU and Cincinnati Central CU is about what's in the best interest of the members, the CEOs of both credit unions are quick to note.

Click to view larger imageLouise McCarren Herring helped found more than 500 cooperatives. Saturday marks her 105th birthday. (Communicating Arts CU Photo)

But the story behind the merger--and the story behind the history of the credit unions--is about family.

Bill Herring, president/CEO of $93.5 million-asset Cincinnati Central CU, and Catherine Herring, president/CEO of $61 million-asset Communicating Arts CU, are brother and sister. Both will retire when the credit union merger is final April 15.

What's more, both credit unions were founded by their mother, credit union pioneer Louise McCarren Herring, who also had a hand in establishing roughly 500 other cooperatives. Saturday, Sept. 20, marks what would have been Louise McCarren Herring's 105th birthday.

Despite the trail their mother blazed and the legacy she left behind, neither Bill nor Catherine set out to follow in her footsteps. Bill had applied for the Peace Corps upon graduation from college when he temporarily took over management duties of Cincinnati Central at his mother's request in 1969.

Catherine similarly started her career on a "temporary" assignment 40 years ago. She took over the president/CEO role of the Communicating Arts CU in 1987.

Discussions of the merger began as Bill and Catherine both contemplated retirement within the past couple years.

Click to view larger imageBill Herring, president/CEO of $93.5 million-asset Cincinnati Central CU, left, and Catherine Herring, president/CEO of $61 million-asset Communicating Arts CU, are brother and sister. Both will retire when credit unions merge April 15. The credit unions were founded by their mother, Louise McCarren Herring. (Communicating Arts CU Photo)

The two credit unions have more than a family connection. They've shared the same building since 1987.  They share the same data processing and online banking platform, operating under a credit union service organization formed in 1999. Employees of the credit unions even share lunch room and training space.

"More than a year ago, I started talking to the board about what the long-term future of the credit union is, recognizing that it isn't me," Catherine told News Now. "Having been here 40-some years, I've been here in the long-term past and the present, but I'm certainly not the long-term future. So we had a very conscious and deliberate conversation that progressed each month though our board meetings, brought in advisers and talked about options."

Bill was also eyeing retirement from his position has president/CEO at Cincinnati Central. Add to the mix a costly upcoming home-banking conversion, and a merger started to look like an attractive option for both credit unions.

"I draw an analogy that there were three trains going on three tracks at different speeds, and not always with an awareness of what the others were doing," Catherine told News Now. "But it was never a foregone conclusion that we would merge. As conversation evolved, here was a unique opportunity to consider."

"They talked to us first, and I think it made a lot of sense for both memberships," Bill told News Now.

The credit unions will approach the merger as a partnership of equals. While Cincinnati Central will be the surviving credit union, the new institution will take on a new brand.

"There's much more enthusiasm for the idea of being part of something new," Catherine said. "To be honest, my board didn't have a lot of enthusiasm about just being part of something bigger. This way, we're taking the history and tradition of both credit unions and forming something new. That's very exciting for everyone involved."

But most importantly, both say the merger will serve the best interests of the memberships going forward.

"The cost of business continues to increase, and there's not a lot of ways to influence that outside of scale," Catherine said.

And both are certain their mother would be delighted with the merger.

"It was always about the member," Bill said. "She believed strongly in the individual dignity of each member regardless of economic status. You need the economic resources to maintain that standard in this day and age, especially in this climate when margins are so thin."

"My mother believed strongly in collaboration and cooperation among cooperatives, and she believed strongly that credit unions needed to offer modern products and services," Catherine explained further. "I think she would be delighted that these credit unions will only work more closely together and continue to provide products and services that our member-owners want, need and deserve."