by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Spotlight Photo: Katie WilsonThe St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union has parted ways with longtime financial services partner Columbia Shores Financial.

The separation was official as of Feb. 15.

Columbia Shores Financial, formerly at an office in the credit union, is now located at 1870 St. Helens Street, and will continue to provide the same services it did when it was partnered with the credit union.

The business had been a partner with the credit union for nearly 14 years, serving credit union members' non-banking financial needs and working on a contract basis with the credit union's administration, said Columbia Shores owner Fred Bieber.

The credit union will now be working with San Diego-based CUSO Financial, a larger business that provides similar services to those offered by Columbia Shores.

Credit Union CEO Brooke VanVleet said this was a decision the credit union made after Columbia Shores approached the credit union about moving on to other opportunities.

Bieber tells a different story.

He said the decision was made with "very little discussion."

He said he had planned to semi-retire last year and Columbia Shores would continue, but after the credit union's tumultuous annual member meeting, Columbia Shores Financial put these plans on hold.

Not long after the member meeting, the credit union hired VanVleet, to help broker a merger with Wauna Federal Credit Union. The merger discussions were later cancelled, but VanVleet stayed on as CEO. Bieber said she made the decision to end the partner agreement with Columbia Shores Financial.

"As SHCU has grown in complexity over the last 14 years, the credit union has selected a new provider that has the infrastructure and expertise to best meet our members needs," wrote VanVleet in an e-mail to the Spotlight.

CUSO is working with several other Pacific Northwest-based credit unions, she said, and she has used them in the past as well.

"There will be no reduction in services, and members will have access to more products as well as technology tools and educational resources on investing and financial planning," she wrote. "As the transition proceeds, members will receive more information from the credit union on the new program."

Jeff Shultz, of Shultz Financial Services in Scappoose, also a partner with Columbia Shores and the credit union, said he expects some clients will follow him and Bieber from the credit union.

"Pretty much everything will remain the same," he said, saying the services he offers won't change simply because he is no longer with the credit union.

"It was a nice partnership to have in place," he added. But, "we knew they were thinking about going in a different direction." And it was not a direction he was interested in going.

Despite how members might feel about the change, Shultz is encouraging them to continue banking at the credit union.

"At this point, there's no sense in doing anything drastic," he said. If the members prefer to work with Columbia Shores or Shultz for non-banking financial counsel, they still can, he said.

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