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Talented team is behind Tyndall FCU's growth and success, says CEO.

Jim Warren evidently believes that a favorite maxim of athletic coaches applies to financial services as well as sports: There is no I in team.

Ask Warren, president/CEO of Tyndall Federal Credit Union in Panama City, Fla., about some program or procedure at the credit union, and he'll quickly direct you to the person in charge of that area. He stresses that as far as he's concerned, it takes an entire crew to keep TFCU moving toward its goals.

Tyndall was formed in 1956 as Tyndall Air Force Base Credit Union. Over the years, membership has grown to include more family members and civilians. In 2001, the field of membership expanded to seven outlying counties, portions of Bay and Okaloosa counties and underserved areas. In addition, TFCU serves civilian and military personnel at bases in northwest Florida and southeast Alabama. The credit union joined the Billionaires' Club last December.

Warren credits his staff for the credit union's growth and high rankings from companies such as Callahan & Associates.

"We've been careful in building our new management team over the past five or six years and in cutting operating expenses," he said.


"I feel very good about our management team. I believe we've built one of the best, if not the best, executive teams in the industry. We have a fine group of talented people with experience from all four corners of the country. They have worked very well together. It isn't just one person who has made this place good."

When he came on board in January 2004, Warren was TFCU's seventh CEO in 18 years. The expense ratio was more than 4%, the delinquency ratio and net charge offs were double that of TFCU's peer group, and overall the credit union was ranked in the bottom quarter of its peer group. Under the new management, delinquencies fell from 1.09% to 0.36%, charge offs decreased from 1.02% to 0.63% and ROA grew from 0.6% to 1.5%.

"Our operating expenses are about $12 million or $14 million a year, and we have done that without cutting staff pay," Warren noted. "On the other hand, we have cut staff. Five years ago we had about 391 employees. Today it's 262. We've done a very good job of becoming more efficient, utilizing our not-for-profit status and not squandering money on frivolous expenses."

"First and foremost, we're efficient at making good loans, something other lenders have gotten in trouble with. We feel as though this is our market. We're kind of like Wal-Mart. As Mario [Mario Luppino, vice president/operations] says, we're the low-cost provider. Normal financial institutions really shouldn't be able to compete with us. One of the bigger concerns we have is, as the market evolves, there are so many opportunities out there--whether it's merging with other credit unions, a community charter or other options. We are well-positioned with a clean loan portfolio, efficiency and a lean, well-trained staff."

With this track record, Warren and four other members of the management team have launched CU-Next, a service designed to help credit unions restructure themselves for long-term viability.

The real estate market in Florida has certainly been hit hard by the recession. And although leaders at other financial institutions, including credit unions, may fret about the economy, Warren doesn't. His advice is to make sure the credit union remains efficient, keep a close watch on operating expenses and loan portfolio and demand return on investment.

"When the tide goes out, you better be wearing a bathing suit," he quipped.

But some factors are beyond credit unions' control. Steve Ravin, senior vice president and chief financial officer, said he believes credit unions will be living with the NCUA corporate stabilization plan and the issues surrounding corporates for the next seven years. While TFCU may be coping, other credit unions are really hurting.

For employees who prize raises over praises, Tyndall has an answer: an incentive plan geared toward increasing efficiency and enhancing the effectiveness of employees in providing member service.

"The payback is greater than the cost," Ravin said. "We have software that measures the productivity of our tellers and our MSRs. It shows various metrics of our call center operation."

One unexpected spinoff from the plan has been enhanced communication among participants, HR and senior executives. Employees ask, "How can I get from a level 3 to a level 4?" That opens conversations offering performance feedback and new ideas.

Just as it looks carefully at employees, the credit union also scrutinizes its branches. A good example is the office in Marianna. TFCU tested the waters with a small storefront branch and expanded from that.

"Our strategy is to go in with a low-cost facility, especially in a new market," Luppino said. "Over a period of time, we determine whether it is a market we want to be in long-term. Then we may end up building a larger facility. It doesn't always work, we're not perfect in all we do, but we think that's the best way to approach entering into a new market."

The credit union also encourages members to use today's technology by offering e-checking accounts. The product was introduced about two years ago, explained Debbie Dial, senior vice president and chief information officer, who oversees the technology involved. The demographics of members using conventional accounts and those enrolled in e-checking are very similar, said Greg Wheeler, vice president/marketing and product development. But e-checking users tend to carry somewhat higher balances and earn higher rates, he added.

Warren came to TFCU as CEO. After graduating from the University of Houston with an MBA, he launched his financial services career as a drive-thru teller. He quickly became vice president of accounting, then CEO of a $4 million credit union. He moved on to a $100 million credit union, then six years ago joined TFCU, where he loves being part of the team.

"It's a great job," he said.
Tyndall Federal Credit Union

Assets: $1 billion

Members: 106,200

Primary sponsor and SEGs: Civilian and military at bases plus
 underserved areas.

Branches: 10

Capital-to-asset ratio: 10.47%

Loan portfolio: $626 million

Employees: 262 FTE

Jim Warren

Graduate of University of Houston with BBA and MA

President/CEO since 2004

Married, one son
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Title Annotation:Billionaires' club
Author:Courter, Eileen
Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:Apr 14, 2010
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