As far as Bob Fisher, president/CEO of Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, is concerned, joining the Billionaires Club doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep growing. In fact, he believes growth is essential.
So if you read recent news releases from Grow Financial, you’ll quickly discover the credit union plans to expand not only beyond its Tampa, Fla.-area base but to other locations in Florida and likely beyond.
In addition to a new downtown Tampa branch scheduled to open in August, its 19th location, Grow Financial expects to open new offices in Lakeland and Wesley Chapel in 2012 and 2013.
“Within the state of Florida, we’re looking to expand the umbrella,” Fisher said. “We’re in five counties, and we want to expand past that into some areas that have good growth potential for us.”
“In terms of out of state, there are a couple things driving that decision. No. 1, we see some good opportunities out of Florida that weren’t necessarily impacted as much by the economic slowdown.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean states adjacent to Florida. It all depends, Fisher said.
“There’s also a desire to diversify our loan portfolio from a geographic standpoint,” he indicated. “Tampa hasn’t had a hurricane in almost 100 years. I think we’re well overdue. If a major hurricane came up Tampa Bay, it would be devastating. If we had a location out of state, it would allow us to have a disaster contingency site we owned. We could also have part of our call center based out of state so if something happened here we wouldn’t be impacted as much.”
Yes, a possible merger is part of the expansion toolbox. One challenge in all this will be finding the right person in the new areas. The credit union will seek someone who is fairly well-connected and has the necessary experience.
Expansion is nothing new for this credit union. Grow Financial began as a credit union serving military and civilian employees at MacDill Air Force Base. When fields of membership were extended in the 1980s, the credit union began adding SEGs and diversifying, with 1,500 SEGs today. That push became even more vital in the 1990s when it appeared MacDill might be on a Department of Defense cut list.
“Our membership today very much mirrors Tampa Bay employer demographics,” Fisher noted. “The military base is still important to us, but it has become a much smaller percentage of our membership compared to when I came in 1990.”
“The typical member today is definitely working class. The average age in 1990 was 60. That is down to 41 now. We have seen some of the effect of people looking for alternatives to large banks. But we’ve always been fairly aggressive at trying to grow our membership.”
Five or 10 years from now, he expects the average age of the Grow Financial member to be even younger. The credit union will have established regional offices outside Florida and will be recognized for its processes and senior staff quality.
But Grow Financial already has assets of almost $2 billion. Is growth still essential?
“Absolutely,” Fisher declared. “No matter what your size, you have to grow to cover the cost of inflation. Otherwise you’re passing those costs on to your members. The Dodd-Frank bill with all the new regulations and credit card disclosure requirements cost us about $1 million in computer software and things we had to buy to comply. We had to keep getting bigger to spread those costs.”
“No matter what size you are, you have to get larger. That is a basic premise of business. It’s going to get tougher and tougher as more regulations keep coming down the road. At our size, sometimes I feel small. We’re not Chase Bank and Citibank and all the large guys. At the end of the day, we’re pretty small in the world of financial services.”
Expansion of the credit union has meant additional jobs, welcome pretty much anywhere, including Florida. Grow Financial was the only financial institution in the mid-size category to appear on a “Best Places to Work in Tampa Bay” list. Fisher is particularly pleased that 75% of the credit union’s employees responded to the survey.
In addition to adding staff to new branches, Grow Financial has also beefed up some other areas. For example, a complete video production studio has been set up, headed by a former production manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A communications director has joined the credit union from the Museum of Science and Industry.
“We’re hiring people in spots that will help us follow our strategic plan and take it to another level,” Fisher pointed out. “What’s interesting is that I think our reputation, as well as winning the Best Places to Work award, is really helping us attract top talent.
We’re looking for people out of the retail industry, such as people we’ve hired from Nordstrom, that have a selling culture. That’s where we’re going.”
Fisher takes keen interest in the careers of the credit union’s young employees and wants to see the credit union create opportunities for them. He sits on the advisory board of the University of South Florida College of Business and sees graduates facing a tough job market.
“The vast majority are scared to death. They worry–are they going to have a job?,” he observed.
Fisher has been Grow Financial president/CEO since 1992. He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a degree in business and a concentration in economics and marketing. He worked as a certified public accountant for a while, then spent a short stint with Sun Trust Bank. In 1990 he joined Grow Financial and became president/CEO when he was 41.
He is married to a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, and with 36 years seniority, she is assigned to a lot of overseas trips. They have two grown children, and the oldest–his son–works for a credit union in Orlando.
Both his son and daughter played soccer when they were young, and Fisher found himself refereeing. He has stayed involved as a referee and also enjoys sports photography. You might find him with his camera at a University of South Florida game.
About Grow Financial
Assets: $1.8 billion
Primary sponsor: Military plus and 1,500 SEGs
Capital-to-asset ratio: 10.15%
Loan portfolio: $1.2 billion
About Bob Fisher
Graduate of Miami University, Oxford, OH
Married, two grown children
President/CEO since 1992