TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Years ago, as he bounced on stage wearing his fluffy, yellow, Big Bird costume, Jim Park, CEO of Credit Union 24, had never heard of an ATM and didn't have a clue that he would wind up spending the bulk of his career promoting the use of the machines.
"I had just graduated from Florida State and just out of school. My very first job was marketing for the local public television affiliate and that meant promoting Big Bird too," explained Park, who will spend his 31st year with the prominent ATM and EFT CUSO this year. "So at different times I put on the bird suit."
On the one hand, wearing the bird suit might have appeared to have been an inauspicious start for someone who later would build one of the leading organizations bringing both ATMs and then EFT services to credit unions. But on the other hand, Park's willingness to take the steps he needed to take to introduce a new idea (even a big yellow feathery one) could have been a sign that he was ready for a position that would require him to sell the idea of ATMs almost as much as it required him to organize ATMs as credit unions deployed them.
After he left the job promoting Jacksonville's WJCT, Park worked for a while for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce before moving over to marketing for Jax River Navy Federal Credit Union (now the $3.4 billion Vystar). It was here that Park first received a representative of the Diebold company who wanted to convince the credit union to give the latest in bank technology a try, the ATM.
"I think it says something that the Diebold representative would have been sent to me, in marketing," Park said. "Back then there were no ATM or EFT departments. No one had seen these things or knew what they could do so they sent him to me because part of my job was promoting the credit union and credit union services to their members."
Park was intrigued by the ATM, which in its early days still presented as many problems for credit unions as it did opportunities. The machines were expensive and only served the members of the one credit union. Further, since they were expensive they couldn't have the geographic reach that they really needed to have to be useful.
So in the late 1970's four Florida credit unions, each with one ATM, decided to try an experiment. They would link their ATMs in a network and offer all of them to all of their members, thus they could quadruple the impact of their machines at only one-quarter the price. Given his interest in ATMs, Park set out to help them, an effort he recalled as a particular challenge.
"This was the very first ATM network, at least in our part of the country, and we had to even find a firm who could devise a switch we could use to switch the transactions," Park said. "That's how new it all was then."
The network idea proved very popular, both with credit union members and the credit unions themselves, and Park soon found himself talking to more credit unions, explaining the benefits of the idea and reassuring them about the possible pitfalls. Finally, in the early 1980s, when the Florida Credit Union League decided to help Florida credit unions out with the ATM network problems, it founded the Florida Credit Union Shared Services and asked Park to be its first employee and executive director.
In the years since, Park and the FCUSS, which became Credit Union 24 in 1998, have played a role in bringing shared branching to the state as well as launching the Member Access Group, a network of credit union networks that allowed the members of one state's credit union ATM network to use the ATMs of another state's, even with the changes in the ATM world, Park noted that Member Access is still being used.
Park said the FCUSS had been happy to remain part of the league, but that a study commissioned by the league itself suggested that FCUSS could serve credit unions more effectively and efficiently if it were independent. Among other things, being independent has meant that Credit Union 24 has been able to offer patronage dividends, which it would not have been able to do before, as well as enter into the wide-ranging agreements with retails chains, which have characterized Credit Union 24's ATM strategy.
Park has watched and worked to grow the network tremendously since its first days as FCUSS and even from its first days as Credit Union 24. Last year the network processed almost 200 million transactions, including over 19 million transactions in the month of December, a one-month record over the last record month of December of last year.
When it comes to the future, Park expects that Credit Union 24 will continue to develop its large point of sale network, where it is already a national leader, and continue to recruit more members. Despite the push to use more cards at the cash register, Park said he doubted whether the demand for ATMs would ever completely fall away--or the need for a network to help credit union members access them. --email@example.com