Bay Media credit union merges with Fire

Leo Smith, CEO of Bay Media Federal Credit Union, at the last Bay Media board meeting Wednesday night at SOMA Restaurant. Board chair Ross Hawkins is in background. Photo by Media Workers Guild/cth 2012.

After more than 50 years serving the financial needs of San Francisco news workers, the Bay Media Federal Credit Union is calling it quits as an independent institution.

Bay Media members voted to merge with the much bigger San Francisco Fire Credit Union, effective Dec. 31. The branch in Mint Plaza will remain along with the ATM inside the Chronicle Building. A new sign should be in the front window for the new year.

Leo Smith, 68, Bay Media CEO for the past 12 years, departs for retirement. All other employees have been offered new jobs with SF Fire, including veteran teller Maria (“Mayte”) Moreira, a familiar face at the front counter known to hundreds of San Francisco Chronicle Guild members.

The Bay Media board — on which I have served the past two years — and management tried to stay independent by reaching out for new members to upstart South of Market employers. But the effort failed to keep pace with the loss of members caused by declining newspaper employment.

In the highly competitive San Francisco banking market, financial experts advised cutting-edge mobile banking and aggressive growth strategies. But the slide in members and assets continued. One reason: Many members, and potential members, assumed the credit union was part of the Chronicle, despite marketing to the contrary.

Bay Media now has only about $12.5 million in assets. At the peak, assets were around $28 million. Membership has plunged from more than 2,000 to about 1,400 today.

Those numbers moved down along with newspaper employment at Fifth and Mission as Teamsters, Press Operators, Mailers and other crafts departed. The Guild remains, but now represents about 250 S.F. newspaper employees, compared with more than 1,100 at the Chronicle, Examiner and San Francisco Newspaper Agency during the heyday of the old Joint Operating Agreement.

By contrast, SF Fire is growing, with assets topping $750 million, led by President and CEO Darren Herrmann. Its 61-year history includes service to fire crews based at 418 Jessie St., where a fire station occupied a site that’s now an upscale residential building and restaurant close to the current Bay Media credit union site.

The Fire Credit Union is moving its call center upstairs in the Bay Media building, where Smith has had his office.

“Our members will be served by one of the best-loved local credit unions in the Bay Area,” Smith said. “This is a plus for everybody.”

The transition has been under way since October when the Bay Media membership voted in favor of the merger by better than a 2-to-1 margin. Letters are arriving now at the homes of Bay Media account holders. Most will see little or no change in their checking or savings accounts, other a “2” added at the beginning of each account number.

Automatic bill paying authorizations have to be renewed in mid-January. Other changes are outlined on the Bay Media website.

The last Bay Media board meeting was held during an Italian dinner Wednesday night a few days before Christmas at SOMA Restaurant. Smith, a wine fancier, brought along a few special bottles from his private stock. Board chair Ross Hawkins thanked his colleagues –Diane FitzGibbon, Danita Hinton, David Johnson, Geoffrey Bauman and me – for their service.

There was some discussion about an auditor’s report, but nobody saw much reason to take any votes since the recommendations will be up to the new SF Fire board and management to implement. FitzGibbon took notes for the final set of board minutes.

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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer