WACO, Texas — Not too many in the industry can say they’ve been steeped in the credit union movement for more than 50 years.

For Billy Spivey, who retired as president/CEO of GENCO Federal Credit Union on Oct. 12, the five decades of service were the best years of his life but the thought of walking away makes him pause.

“It’s going to be an adjustment, make no bones about it” Spivey acknowledged. “To be honest, I just don’t know how I’m feeling.”

Spivey served as president/CEO of GENCO for the last 16 years but started his career in 1955 at William Cameron Employees FCU in Waco. Directly prior to serving as GENCO, Spivey was president of Texas Share Guaranty CU in Austin from 1984 to 1991. He was also president of Public Employees CU in Austin from 1972 to 1984, and Waco VA FCU from 1963 to 1972.

Neil Ling has been named the new president/CEO. Ling, who took over on Oct. 15, served as executive vice president at the credit union for the past five years and has been with GENCO since 1994.

Under his tenure at GENCO, membership grew 9,000 to 30,000; assets increased from $36 million to $154 million; 19 employees grew to 98 and one branch expanded to a six branch-network. The community-chartered credit union, which serves two counties, saw robust mortgage and home equity lending programs and most recently, business lending.

But don’t count Spivey out just yet. He has no immediate plans to completely severe ties to credit unions.

“I’m going to try and program my mind for the first few weeks,” said Spivey, who is taking a much-deserved vacation and is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren. His daughter has assured him that she will help dad fill up his days. After some time, I want to continue to do some credit union-related things.

Days before his retirement, GENCO hosted a dinner party at a local country club to honor Spivey. He got the chance to see some long-time friends and was the victim of some good-natured roasting. Reflecting back on that night, Spivey says without a doubt, he will miss the people.

“The members, the employees that I have had the pleasure of working with for 50 years, the people that I’ve met over the years across the state and nationwide–that’s what I will miss the most.”

The Waco native was no stranger to credit unions when he first joined one at the age of 16. The company where his father worked had a credit union. That summer, one of the first things his dad did was walk a teenage Spivey over to the credit union to open an account so that he can have his paycheck deposited there.

Throughout his career, opportunities to work at various credit unions throughout Texas continued to open up. His start at William Cameron Employees FCU, a $10 million financial institution ["considered large back then"] was his first managerial exposure. The credit union, like many at the time, was a single employer one with basic share accounts and consumer loans. Today, he observes the changes the industry has undergone.

“What I’ve seen is a broadening of powers, I’ve seen companies close and downsize and this resulted in either the loss of a credit union or a credit union merging with another one,” Spivey said.

Has the industry’s expansion been a good thing, relatively speaking?

“I still think credit unions are about people helping people,” Spivey said. “I have changed as things have changed and I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay around so long. As a business industry expands, you have to be realistic. The competition today is no comparison to what it was back then. Credit unions had their own niches.”

In addition to serving at several credit unions, Spivey had his finger on the pulse of some of the progressive issues of the day. He has served on numerous credit union boards and committees, including CUNA’s board of directors, National Association of Share Insurance Corporations, Texas Credit Union League Services Board, CUES Texas Council and governmental appointee to the Texas Credit Union Commission. Spivey was also voted “Texas Credit Union Professional of the Year” in 2001. He is a past president of the Central Texas Chapter of Credit Unions and the Austin Chapter of Credit Unions.

One of the bigger industry issues was share draft insurance in the late 1970s, Spivey recalled. He feels that it was inevitable more changes would impact the way credit unions serve members.

“These changes came about because of member need and member want. None of them would have been successful if members didn’t use them,” Spivey said. “Competition forces you to do better.”

Keeping up in a competitive marketplace was one of the reasons GENCO changed its charter. The credit union was founded in 1953 to serve employees of the General Tire and Rubber Company. When the plant closed in 1985, the board decided to expand the field of membership to local businesses. Over the next few years, Lutfkin Regional FCU merged with GENCO and the credit union expanded to McLennan and Angelina counties in Texas.

“This used to be a single employer credit union,” Spivey said. “When the plant closed, the manager had to make a decision on whether the credit union would continue, merge or liquidate. It was not an easy thing. Not everybody liked the idea.”

But the transition was a necessary one since many of the members who worked at the tire company were now unemployed and relocating elsewhere for new jobs, Spivey said. The industry veteran has no regrets about moving with the tide but cautions on remembering what’s really at stake.

“Don’t forget–you need the members more than they need you because they have a lot of options,” Spivey offered.

And as he prepares to enter the next phase of his life, he doesn’t waver on his feelings about credit union metamorphism, particularly those that have converted to banks.

“A credit union should remain a credit union, if that is the plan,” Spivey said. “Every generation has to do its own thing. That’s great. That’s progress but the member should be the priority.”

–msamaad@cutimes.com