Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union to acquire Animas Credit Union in impending merger

Matt Hollinshead,
Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, which is based in Albuquerque, will acquire Animas Credit Union in a merger.

FARMINGTON — Assessing the long-term future, both parties say the impending Animas Credit Union and Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union merger makes plenty of sense and opens up banking opportunities in San Juan County.

ACU President and CEO Gary Sterton is retiring on Jan. 1, 2021. SLFCU President and CEO Robert Chavez — who met Sterton through the New Mexico Credit Union Association — said he will build on what Sterton has done over the past 20 years.

“It’s an opportunity for us to enter into a market that we don’t currently have a presence, the Farmington area there,” Chavez said, adding SLFCU already has roughly 1,200 Farmington-area customers. "We're the largest financial institution headquartered in the State of New Mexico. We're homegrown."

Finishing the merger process could take some time. 

Sterton and Chavez both signed an agreement to get the merger approved around March 2021. In all, it’ll take up to 12 months before accounts are integrated into SLFCU’s system.

“It’ll be a transparent process for them as the merger progresses,” Sterton said. “I’ve known Robert for almost 20 years. I like how he operates. We’re very similar in our approach to business and how we run our credit union… It’s a win-win for employees and for our members.”

Things like customers’ account and routing numbers would remain virtually the same, but Chavez added that some individual digits within those account and routing numbers might change to fit into SLFCU's organizational system structure.

“It’s not going to affect where their direct deposits flow... we’ll work with the members to take care of all that for them,” Chavez said.

Product offerings would expand

Chavez said SLFCU is approaching $3 billion in company assets, allowing them to extend products and services out to the Four Corners.

“There are all kinds of mortgage loan products that Robert offers that I don’t,” Sterton said.

San Juan County residents will also have the luxury of stopping by an Albuquerque location in the event they’re short on cash while visiting the Duke City.

Among the benefits Chavez and Sterton see:

♦ Staying within northern New Mexico, as SLFCU is headquartered in Albuquerque.

♦ Expanding locations and shared branching opportunities.

♦ Expanding mortgage loan and small business financing options.

♦ Lower auto loan rates.

♦ Improved online banking features for mobile devices.

Industry trends don't favor small credit unions

Sterton said the current ACU membership charter, or license to operate, is limited to those living and working in San Juan County.

“Certainly, this opens up more of the state to the credit union and service. The trend on the industry, unfortunately, is smaller credit unions are having a tough go of it because we don’t have the scale to get the pricing that Robert gets,” Sterton said. “This merger allows us to charge lower loan rates, pay higher deposit rates, have products and services we don’t already have in our quiver.”

Sterton said ACU has tripled the size of its assets in the last 20 years under his stewardship, but feels he’s squeezed out all he could out of this market.

Going forward, Chavez will lead the charge.

Once the merger is consummated, Chavez said SLFCU will look into adding more members from surrounding communities by way of a “select employer group” relationship, meaning one can join if they’re part of an association that already does business with SLFCU.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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Note: The Daily Times corrected three pieces of information in the story: how Robert Chavez and Gary Sterton met, the timeline between approval for the merger and that the integration into SLFCU’s system is where the process may take up to 12 months, and clarifying that an individual digit or digits within one’s account and routing number might be the only future changes made to fit that account into the organizational system structure.