ORLANDO, Fla. – During the coming year, Fairwinds Credit Union will be working to integrate its already robust business lending into a cohesive program. Plans for that effort were hashed out at an internal meeting November 25 that involved some 30 FCU employees ranging from business loan center staff to branch and member services staff and systems experts. "What we sort of came down to was we need to develop a cohesive infrastructure for business services, both the loan side and the deposit side," says CEO Larry Tobin. One step will involve hiring a business services manager. A search is already underway to fill that position. The person hired will develop a business services action plan aimed at developing a seamless approach. Tobin is bullish on the prospects. "You'll see tremendous growth in volume. The business loan portfolio will have tripled within a year, and on the business deposit side we will technology in place to provide services equivalent to what our members currently get from commercial banks or community banks." Strong business growth in the Orlando area has already helped boost demand for commercial accounts at the credit union. Tobin said the opportunity isn't limited to central Florida. "I think there's a need throughout the country, particularly for what we are doing as a credit union," Tobin says. "The average commercial loan at a bank is probably about $1.2 to $1.5 million. What we're seeing in the average small business loan is about $100,000. It's a niche the credit union can serve effectively other financial institutions don't seem to have a lot of interest in providing service to ." Who are these small businesses that are turning to FCU? Tobin cites a wide variety of examples. A floor tile and carpeting company. A bakery. A child care center. Dentists and doctors seeking financing for a new building. Government contractors. Churches who want a construction loan on a new place of worship. In many cases, these business owners are already a FCU member, have some affiliation with the credit union, or are referred by a member. All the credit union's employees and managers have been trained to solicit commercial accounts. There is now a business loan center with experienced business loan officers to handle actual loan decisions, credit analysis and documentation. On the deposit side, the regular consumer staff has been handling business accounts. That will change with the hiring of a business services manager to oversee commercial activity. "We have been providing deposit services for decades," Tobin says. "It has just been a basic business checking account. We have approximately 2,500 to 3,000 business checking accounts. They are simple accounts. We don't have a sophisticated accounts with compensating balances. "That has been very well received, because small businesses don't need all the sophisticated services. However, now that we're expanding business services, doing business loans and offering services that are more sophisticated, we are working toward setting up the technology to handle more complex accounts." The biggest challenge, he continues, is technology. Tobin says there is really no credit union-specific system that offers a consolidated business package. So FCU recently purchased software from Aurum Technology in Plano, Texas, that is separate from the current consumer loan processing. A credit union offering business accounts faces a decision, Tobin says – do you buy a banking system and try to make it into a credit union system, or do you get a credit union system and work with those providers to fold in commercial accounts? On a positive note, Tobin sees a lot of resources available within the credit union movement today. Many credit unions are providing business loans and deposits, and doing it very successfully. They're willing to share that expertise. "People are very willing to help," he declares. -

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