Merger yields Blaze Credit Union

By Scott Carlson

The merger of SPIRE and Hiway credit unions into Falcon Heights-based Blaze Credit Union was celebrated on Feb. 24, the day of the new financial entity’s first annual meeting, with some 3,700 members attending.

The Blaze meeting drew such a large audience because it gave $25 to every registered attendee. This special promotion began several years ago at SPIRE, the brainchild of its marketing department and chief executive officer Dan Stoltz.

Stoltz, now Blaze’s CEO, said the idea was to combine a fun customer appreciation event with a short business meeting.

“Because it was unique—no other credit union in the country was doing an annual meeting like this — we needed to get special approval from the regulators,” Stoltz said of the $25 per member cash giveaway. “Regulators approved it without concern because we paid people the $25 to attend, not to vote a certain way.”

Formally announced in mid-2023, the SPIRE-Hiway merger took effect Jan. 1. It has united two of Minnesota’s largest credit unions, with combined assets of more than $4 billion, serving 250,000 members and making it Minnesota’s fourth-largest credit union. All 26 branches remain in operation, and all 650 plus associates remain employed.

Although Stoltz and Hiway’s CEO Dave Boden had casually talked for years about merging the two credit unions, their talks got more serious about 18 months ago when Boden announced he would be retiring.

In a Bugle email interview, Stoltz said merging SPIRE and Hiway is producing a bigger, stronger credit union.

“We can do more together—more community giveback, better member value and stronger branch footprint were key considerations when we started to dream about the possibilities,” Stoltz said. “Blaze Credit Union has greater financial strength, so we are better positioned to offer top rates on both loans and savings, advanced technology and giving back to more to our communities.”

For example, Blaze was able to cut $2 million in fees almost immediately,” Stoltz said. “We also took the ’best of the best’ products between the two credit unions. One of the exciting benefits for our customers is that Blaze will now be able offer the very latest in advanced technology to our customers.”

Meanwhile, Stoltz said Blaze is merging operations with no workforce cut expected from among its more than 600 employees. “Any reduction in the workforce will happen over several years through attrition,” he said.

Stoltz said Blaze plans to expand its office footprint across Minnesota and wants to become Minnesota’s best credit union.

As the CEO of Blaze, Stoltz has a long history in financial services and civic activities to go with strong roots in the Twin Cities community.

Stoltz grew up on St. Paul’s East Side and was the first in his family to go to college. He graduated from University of Northwestern in Roseville, got his MBA from St Thomas University and then became a certified public accountant.

After college, Stoltz worked for Northwestern to pay off student loans, then in 1999 was named chief financial officer of Twin City Co-ops Credit Union, which would become SPIRE in 2008.

SPIRE promoted Stoltz to senior vice president in 2007 and he became its CEO and president in 2010.

Stoltz said his philosophy is that “life is about giving and not getting.” He credits his father Gene Stoltz, who owned a house painting business, for being his role model.

“He taught me, (among other things,) how to chase my dreams and take good chances, to show up when I say yes and simply go for it. Every day is a gift.”

Going for it has included serving as the spokesman for the credit union in its TV commercials.

“Marketing approached me with the idea of doing TV commercials with me and an old work truck,” Stoltz said. “My reaction was that it was CRAZY, but I agreed to try it for two years.

“I honestly didn’t want to be in the commercials,” Stoltz said. “But the truck and the members telling their story resonated with people.” 

Scott Carlson is the managing editor of the Bugle. In the interest of full disclosure, he is also a Blaze Credit Union member.

Photo cutlines:

CEO Dan Stoltz speaks at annual members’ meeting. Photo courtesy Blaze Credit Union.

The youth acrobatics group Circus Juventas performed at Blaze Credit Union’s Customer Appreciation event. Photo by Bella Solle Photography.

Leave a Reply