THREE RIVERS, Calif. (4/16/09)--CEO Paula Estep and the board of directors at Valley Oak CU in Three Rivers, Calif., turned over one of the credit union’s branches to another credit union to ensure its members would continue to be served--and served by the same staff they have come to know. Valley Oak CU’s Madera County branch presented an economic and geographic hurdle for the credit union--it was 65 miles away from the next closest branch. But rather than close the branch, let the staff go, and watch members trickle off to competitors in the area, Estep contacted Hank Barrett, CEO of Modesto, Calif.-based Valley First CU. She asked if his credit union would consider assuming the branch, its employees, and Valley Oak’s Madera-based members. “I have been through a branch closure before, where we just had to pull out of the geographical area,” Estep said. “It was so unpleasant for the membership and the employees. If we were just to pull out, our members would move to a bank. We wanted to keep the credit union industry alive and going. I didn’t even consider [handing over our branch and our members to be] that big of a deal. It just felt like the right thing to do.” Barrett said he was blown away by the request. “To turn over your membership to someone else is truly a testament that you are looking out for your members’ well being,” he said. “I have to take my hat off to Paula for being such a true credit union professional.” Barrett’s board agreed to take over the branch, and a joint letter from the $60.2 million- asset Valley Oak and $296.7 million-asset Valley First was sent to Madera-based members announcing the switch. Estep said members were pleased to find they would still see the same employees they knew. On April 1, Valley First officially moved into the Madera branch. It is now a shared branch through the end of April to allow members to open new Valley First accounts before the branch becomes a part of Valley First. Estep encourages other credit unions to make a similar choice if they can. “Instead of just having those members bleed off and go to competitors in the area, why not keep it in the credit union industry? It’s a win–win for everybody,” she concluded.