When they discovered the credit union boasts a 12.4% capital ratio, they were delighted. In fact, quipped President/CEO John Rhea, with statistics
like that in the current economy, "They give you a standing ovation."
"I think what you're seeing is that what you always thought was too much capital may not be any more. We've always felt comfortable that we kept [the capital ratio] in double digits. We didn't want it to get below 10. The 12% is a nice number, and that ebbs and flows depending on the performance of the credit union."
Even with solid numbers, Rhea figures today's economy means the credit union must be nimble.
"I don't recall ever seeing changes in the economic environment happening as fast as we've seen in the past few years," he noted. "You must have the adaptability to quickly make changes in how you do things. Your interest rate is very important. Your asset/liability management is probably more important today than it has ever been."
Despite scary times and gloomy headlines, Rhea noted the credit union just completed its most successful year ever. In addition to an above-average capital-to-asset ratio, Robins FCU recorded a 1.25% ROA, 12% loan growth, 13% deposit growth, and delinquency and charge-off ratio of 0.45%.
Perhaps it doesn't hurt that Robins FCU originated in 1954 with employees at Warner Robins Air Force Base, today the largest employer in Georgia. About 75% are federal civil service employees, the rest military. Rhea noted the economy of the base significantly affects 20 or 25 counties in middle Georgia. In 2000 Robins FCU did switch to a community charter, somewhat insulating it from any cutbacks at the base.
Robins FCU joined the Billionaires' Club ranks last year. Although membership in that group has been growing, Rhea believes it's still a significant landmark.
"A billion dollars usually means you can achieve some economies of scale that you hadn't been able to maybe when you were smaller," he said. "It's an indicator of success in the fact your members have a lot of faith in you and you're doing the job you need to do with your products and services to satisfy them."
One example is the rollout of mobile banking services, which Robins FCU will launch by the end of the first quarter of this year. Although it sounds as though it might present some technical hurdles, Rhea said it hasn't been a complex product to install-in fact, easier than many other things.
Yes, you do have to make certain you select the right product with the features you want. That means the credit union has been taking the time needed to make certain mobile banking will do everything expected.
Even with today's technology, Rhea said the credit union-with 17 branches-has been pretty proactive in its branching strategy.
"Convenience is still No. 1," he indicated. "People want to have a branch convenient to them where they can go in when they need to. I do think you have to be more prudent, because of the expense of a branch.
However, you still need to keep them in your strategy, and when you have a nice concentration of members in an area, a branch is the next thing you need to put in that area."
Another rollout will be an Easy Save Share Certificate. Rhea said two things prompted that introduction. The first is to make it simple for younger members to save and earn a higher rate. In addition, the economy has prompted people to look for new ways to painlessly save money. Easy Share Certificates will require a minimum $100 deposit and offer competitive dividends.
Rhea became president/CEO Jan. 1 this year when John Ruffin, who had been with the credit union since 1997, retired. Rhea, a Pittsburgh native, graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a major in finance. For 10 years he worked for a bank holding company that was a subsidiary of Barclays Bank. Then it was on to Barnett Bank of Florida, today Bank of America.
Finally, in 1996, Rhea made the move to credit unions, joining Robins FCU as vice president of branch operations, with additional responsibilities for lending. In 2006, he became executive vice president.
Rhea and his wife have three daughters, two whom have graduated from college and another still in college. Echoing the thoughts of other parents facing tuition bills, he sighed, "I had three in college at one time, which is no fun."
Fun for him is almost any sport or sporting event. In fact, if you're searching for him on a weekend or evening, it would probably be a good idea to pick up the local sports pages and check what games are on.
He's an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Penn State Nittany Lions. He enjoys golf, and loves being outside. He even likes cutting the lawn and gardening, chores many husbands dodge.
As for his general outlook on life, "I've learned you can mellow with age. I've gotten much more patience as I've aged. I do have high expectations for the people that work here and for the senior management team," Rhea said.
"What makes me proud is seeing people who worked for me 10 years ago. Their careers have developed and they have become part of the management group at this credit union, and even part of the senior
management team. You hope you made some difference in their careers that helped them get to the level they're at."