Smooth sailing for First Heritage, so far — Naar

Friday, March 22, 2013

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SEVEN months after Churches and GSB Co-operative credit unions joined forces, the merged entity has completed a list of scheduled tasks critical to its strategic plan, says Basil Naar.

Naar, the CEO of First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, the operation that was formed out of the alliance, attributed a "very thorough" pre-merger process to the firm achieving its targets.

"We have met our main financial objectives but most importantly, we have met our target dates for effective changes as planned," Naar said in a press release.

"We are particularly proud of this feat as we are aware that in a merger process, most times these are not met," he added.

A breakthrough for First Heritage, Naar said, was the achievement of an early establishment of the new brand in the market. Additionally, he said the company revamped policies that hindered efficient customer service, instituted new service standards to improve turnaround times for loan processing, launched a more interactive website and a 24-hr call centre, embarked on leadership training and initiated a new customer service ethos by introducing an online training programme in professional development.

Importantly, the First Heritage boss noted that the firm was able to hold onto the best employees.

"Our strategic decision was not to lose our best employees. We have learned through past merger experiences of other businesses that redundancies came too early, leading to a dysfunctional and an unsettled and unproductive work environment," Naar said.

"We had decided that any redundancy would be as a result of non- performance. We regard a strong sales force as important, as such, we encourage employees to go into sales to increase business. As a result, we achieved our goal of no redundancies except for non-performance and unproductivity," he revealed.

First Heritage was launched August in an effort to create a stronger, more financially powerful institution capable of offering its members greater benefits. The new entity boasts a combined membership of more than 160,000 and an asset portfolio of $9 billion.

What's more is that small businesses will find it easier to raise equity when the company forms one of the island's first venture capital funds early next year.

"As a credit union, we believe that we should always assist people to go into business. We decided to form a venture capital operation under the credit union to assist people with capital for which they would have no obligation to pay back as in a loan," revealed Naar.

"We do not intend to be permanent owners but intend to sell our holdings to the owner as soon as the business is stable," added Naar, noting that the seed input for the operation will come from First Heritage's net surplus at the end of 2013 and from outside sources.

Venture capital is normally sought during a business's early stages, especially when it is too small to get money from the capital markets or has trouble securing bank loans.

Although First Heritage will consider investing in any micro or small business, it will lean more towards those in the productive sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing, the company has said.

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