"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A growing credit union

ICCU President and CEO Kent Oram and tellers Rebekah Cote, center, and Dani Neumann inside ICCU’s new Chubbuck branch, the latest of the company’s 19 Idaho branches. (photo/Mark Mendiola)


Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Idaho Central Credit Union’s November 5 opening of its $2 million Chubbuck branch marks another milestone for the state’s largest credit union as it continues to grow at a robust double-digit pace against strong head winds in the nation’s financial markets.

ICCU’s statewide monthly payroll ranges between $1.5 million or $1.7 million – or more than $20 million annually, says Kent Oram, ICCU president and chief executive officer. Of the nation’s 7,000 credit unions, Idaho Central ranked 164th in assets at the end of September.

Its growth rate stands at about 20 percent annually. By comparison, the national growth rate for credit unions amounts to about 4 percent.

Idaho Central – a state chartered and federally insured financial institution – boasts 40,000 mobile banking users. Between 900 and 1,000 ICCU customers have signed up for “very well-received” mobile deposits that were started a month ago and allow photo copies of checks.

ICCU’s annual loan growth rate has averaged 26 percent as opposed to the national average of 1 percent. Idaho as a whole is doing better than other states in the nation, Oram says adding there are about 60 credit unions operating in the state, down from about 110 to 120 when he started. There were about 12,000 credit unions nationally three decades ago.

The Chubbuck branch on Yellowstone Avenue is not far from ICCU’S five-story, 700,000-square-foot headquarters building near the Interstate 86 interchange, where the company has been based the past five years. That highly visible structure is at 80 percent capacity with 175 employees, Oram says.

Planning for the HQ building started about 10 years ago and construction commenced seven years ago. Some of its electrical, heating and air conditioning systems are solar-enabled.

“People thought it was a hotel for a while. Now, it’s our home,” says Oram, a Blackfoot native who earned a bachelor’s degree from Idaho State University in information systems management.

Idaho Central Credit Union President and Chief Executive Officer Kent Oram stands outside the new ICCU branch in Chubbuck. Behind him is a new Sherwin Williams paint store at Yellowstone Commons. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

Oram started with ICCU 28 years ago and moved to Boise to manage its information systems, which were relocated to Pocatello at the end of 1984. He has been president and CEO for about five years, succeeding Chris Hyer, who succeeded Ned Freckleton, ICCU’s first president and CEO.

ICCU directors discussed moving company headquarters to Boise, the state’s political and financial capital, the Blackfoot native says, but opted to stay put in the Pocatello area, deciding “this was the right place for us to be.” Oram praises the character, work ethic and resilience of Eastern Idaho residents.

Organized at Boise in 1940, the credit union moved its only office to Caldwell in 1944. Four years later that office was moved to Pocatello. For a time, it only had offices in Pocatello and Boise before launching an ambitious expansion. It now has 19 locations throughout southern Idaho, including 12 in the Treasure Valley (where 60 percent of ICCU’s customers live) and two in the Magic Valley. A Caldwell branch also recently opened.

Of ICCU’s nearly 400 employees in the state, about 200 work in Eastern Idaho at the headquarters, one branch in Pocatello, one branch in Chubbuck, one branch in Blackfoot and two branches in Idaho Falls. Pocatello has about 12,000 members; Blackfoot, up to 4,000, and Idaho Falls, about 7,000.

Statewide, one in 15 Idahoans has a relationship with Idaho Central. Regionally, it’s about one in eight in Pocatello; one in seven in Blackfoot, and one in 14 in Idaho Falls.

Oram estimates 150 employees are ISU graduates and about 75 percent of employees staffing an ICCU call center are attending college. “We’re very well connected with ISU.”

Forty-five employees across the state are directly involved in mortgage lending, which has been very hot lately, Oram says, estimating ICCU originates between $30 million and $50 million in mortgage loans on a monthly basis. This year all loans processed by ICCU will total about $1.1 billion.

“We’ve never stopped lending in the recession,” he says.

About 40 percent of Idaho Central’s traffic is people who do business in person at branches, including many Generatiion Y and Gen X clients. “We plan to build one or two branches a year for a few years anyway,” Oram says, stressing local branches help maintain a hometown feel.

Citing a “bricks vs. clicks” difference in approaches, Oram observes: “Some credit unions have chosen to stop building branches and have retracted.” ICCU also plans to keep on the cutting edge of technological advances and continue investing heavily in protecting its electronic systems from hack attacks.

Oram has noticed more bank customers shifting their accounts to credit unions, but not because banks are inferior to credit unions. Following the 2008 global financial meltdown, many banks disappeared, such as Washington Mutual, which was absorbed by Chase. Major banks also employ local people and take really good care of big accounts, he says.

“Our niche is Jill and Joe Lunchbucket,” Oram remarks, emphasizing equity has not vanished nor eroded away in Idaho. While real estate values have declined in the Treasure Valley and the housing market there has struggled, it has not suffered as badly as Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada, and appears to be recovering. “It’s been a tough five years for all financial institutions.”

The Chubbuck ICCU branch and a new Sherwin Williams paint store anchor the new Yellowstone Commons commercial development. The new branch is more spacious and modern than its former location north on Yellowstone Avenue, where it was housed since 1985.

The new site features wider drive-through lanes to accommodate Eastern Idaho’s big pickup trucks; safe deposit boxes; new equipment; mortgage services and business features.

It typically takes 180 days from start to finish to open a new branch, Oram says. Acquiring the land and going through “hoops and hurdles,” including planning and zoning requirements and building permits, usually are done within six months.

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