Bay Credit Union (Bay CU) was originally chartered in 1952 to serve the needs of the local paper-mills’ employees as International Paper Employees Federal Credit union. Today, it is known as the Bay Credit Union, which continues to serve the needs of its community and its members as it has for nearly 60 years. Although the economic woes and sketchy loans of big banks hit the financial district hard, credit unions banned together, taking a partial hit for its bigger counterparts by not taking any TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program] money. Impressively, Bay CU still operates with its integrity intact, and treats its estimated 9,000 members with the same respect and stellar customer service that has come to characterize the credit union. Paul Strappel, vice president of lending, tells Profile why you can’t place a value on ethics.
How important are member relations to the continued growth of Bay CU?
Our membership has stayed steady at around 9,000 members, but our assets have increased over 60 percent since 1995 to just over $66 million. The relationships that we have forged are the basis of our existence because it is not just about attracting one member; it entails providing services and trusted relationships that are generational. Servicing our members with respect, exceptional products and services, competitive rates, credit-building information, and a personable approach are the main components of our growth and continued trusting relationships.
Can you explain what the term “loan fright” means and how Bay CU addresses this issue?
Loan fright occurred after the major banks found themselves in trouble, accepting TARP money, and scaling back on loan originations due to default rates, unemployment, declining real-estate values, and more stringent requirements to ensure good loans. Because we operate under the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) and have acted with due diligence with regards to our consumer lending during the housing boom, we are still in very good shape. We still continue to approve loans because we have acted responsibly to our members and to our code of ethics. We have had some loan losses, but we have managed our delinquencies and have come out pretty good. Yet there are still bad things happening to good people. It has never been, nor will it ever be, to undermine the financial responsibility that we have as a lending institution. Therefore, we have not experienced loan fright but rather have continued to look for ways to approve more loans to our members.
How do you help members to improve their credit score?
We provide them with the right tools and information to make sound financial decisions and work closely with them to help create a plan that is workable and doable for their financial situations. If we see that they have improved their credit scores, then we will adjust our members’ interest rates. We want to work with them and provide positive incentives to improve that all-important credit score because it affects most aspects of a person’s financial life.
How do you market your products and services?
We do a lot of direct mail, a little radio, use the Internet, obviously use e-mail, and publish a newsletter with current information. But most importantly, we talk with our members and make ourselves visible in the community. Our main objective is to educate our members and to provide accessible information regarding our products and services which is available on our website. Word of mouth is one of our greatest marketing vehicles; our products and services are openly shared with friends and family to build our membership base. Last year, we opened a new branch in Callaway, Florida. And this year we are also very excited about our new full-service branch that is being built on Panama City Beach, Florida.
How is Bay County moving forward during this economy and what does it mean for Bay CU?
Bay County is an exceptional place to live. With nearly 170,000 residents, the county continues to move forward in creating jobs, potential business, and building a basis for continued economic growth. This is a great place to conduct business and we are trying to move that forward in terms of economic development.
With our new international airport and an international port that services the shipping accessibility that the Gulf Coast offers, this area is prime for growth and expansion. It offers a beautiful Florida State University extension campus as well as Gulf Coast State College. Bay County is also the home to Tyndall Air Force Base, which houses the 1st Air Force. The 1st Air Force is responsible for the air defenses of the continental United States, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Bay County is also home to the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Panama City is an excellent place to live, work, and play. There are opportunities here for small to large-size businesses that we can offer financial support. We are in this together for the long haul because it is vital to our community growth and quality of living.