JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jax Navy FCU is accustomed to being big. With more than $2 billion in assets, Jax Navy is the fifteenth largest CU in the U.S. Starting Jan. 1, 2002 it will also have the notoriety of not only being the largest state-chartered credit union in Florida, but the largest state-chartered financial in the Sunshine State. What does Jax Navy’s President/CEO Terry West think of all this? “We’re ready for it,” he answers. West spoke with Credit Union Times a couple of weeks before the credit union’s historic charter conversion takes effect. At press time, the credit union still had some unfinished business it had to take care of before kickoff – for example, it still had to decide what its new name would be. But West was confident everything would be in order when the new charter takes effect. At that time, Jax Navy will become the third federal credit union in Florida to convert to a state charter in 2001 – the other two were Tropical Financial CU (formerly Tropical FCU) and Eastern Financial CU (formerly Eastern Financial FCU). Jax Navy was chartered in 1952 as a federal credit union to serve active and retired civil service employees and their families, and active and retired Navy and their families. “Being chartered as a federal credit union was the best and right decision for the credit union at the time for what it wanted to accomplish then,” said West. But like any credit union with a long history, it’s had to constantly reassess its priorities and goals. Base closures in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced Jax Navy to look beyond its core membership and diversify. In 1992, the credit union began taking in select employee groups. Today, 20% of Jax Navy’s 270,000 members are active or retired military or civil service employees. The remaining 80% are from 650 SEGs ranging in size from as small as three people to 4,000 people located mostly in Duval, Clay and St. John counties, and to a lesser extent in Nassau and Baker counties. Flexibility is still key to Jax Navy’s growth, said West, and it was the impetus behind the credit union’s decision to convert to a state charter. “As a state-chartered credit union, we’ll have greater flexibility to define our field-of-membership,” he said. “Under Florida state law, we can have what’s referred to as a limited field-of-membership, that is define our field-of-member by what makes sense for Jax Navy now and what will be appropriate in the future. We’ll be able to add groups and adjacent counties, which we couldn’t do as a federal charter. We’ll have more flexibility,” West said. West explained that Jax Navy’s decision to convert to a state charter was almost two years in the making. The credit union looked at the comparative regulatory environment between the two charter types and the examination process. West and the board talked with the state regulator also – “We asked a lot of questions,” he said. West also talked with NCUA, and he said, “The agency was very supportive in helping us do what we felt was the right business decision.” At the membership vote on Oct. 24, nearly three-quarters-71%-of the voting membership voted in favor of the charter conversion. Jax Navy will convert with its current field-of-membership. The credit union has no immediate plans to expand its product menu or FOM, but West said the credit union is considering doing so in the future. West is cognizant of the fact that Jax Navy will have an increased visibility in Florida when the conversion is effective and the responsibilities that brings with it. “Anytime you’re the big one, you have a leadership role. You’re very obvious, people and financials are more watchful of you,” he said. He added though that, “Just because a financial is big it doesn’t mean it can’t learn from small financials. I look at small credit unions all the time and find things I can learn from them. We should look and learn from each other. Size isn’t relevant to having a good idea.” West is sure this probably won’t be the last change Jax Navy will have to make in the years ahead to insure future growth for the credit union. He’s confident though that he’ll look back at the credit union’s conversion to a state charter and he’ll be able to say, “We made a change we felt was important for our future.” – ekingoff@cutimes.com