2 min read October 2021 — VyStar is a not-for-profit, member-owned credit union that offers a spectrum of banking products and renowned customer service to help members reach their financial goals. In an interview with Invest:, CEO Brian Wolfburg discussed the takeaways from the pandemic, the credit union’s employee engagement, Jacksonville’s growth and market changes.
Coming out of the pandemic, what are the main takeaways and successes for VyStar Credit Union?
It was an unexpected challenge but we came through it very well. I’m proud to say our team didn’t lose track of anything and kept moving forward servicing our members and stepping up for our community. We originated more Paycheck Protection Program loans than any other credit union in Florida and worked with the government to develop the City of Jacksonville Emergency Loan Program. We gave back to our community by joining our partners to aid nonprofits and cultural venues in our community. We collaborated with Rethreaded to provide masks to the city’s hospitals and to Jacksonville residents.
We were able to transition to a completely remote workforce within two weeks and have had great progress on moving toward a more remote working environment. Since before the pandemic, we have wanted to disperse our Contact Center and expand across the state with better Business Continuity Disaster Recovery (BCDR). This huge project we had in mind ended up happening almost overnight for us. We’ve done well in the virtual environment; however, as we move forward, we want to find the balance between working from home and from corporate locations, since the latter has a great advantage in bringing people together and building relationships.
How do you maintain engagement through the shifts in the workplace environment and how do you continue to develop and retain talent?
This year we were recognized as one of the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces, which we attribute to our great leadership team, strong communication and employee benefits. We have open communication with our team and are very transparent with our decision process. We already had a very strong culture that worked in a variety of settings and environments, which helped us succeed through this pandemic. However, during these hard times, we would communicate our struggles, which were in many cases, similar to those of our employees. We know how much stress uncertainty can give, so we don’t hide behind corporate-speak; on the contrary, we communicate clearly and often with our team. We have several channels, including direct email communications, employee newsletters, town halls and, when possible, face-to-face interaction. We value our team as individuals and see them as our corporate family, which is why we provide the best-in-class benefits and do everything we can to ensure a great working environment through HR policies and procedures.
What are the benefits of being headquartered in Jacksonville and how does it benefit the area to have a top credit union?
We’ve had a strong relationship with the city ever since we started almost 70 years ago. Our commitment to our community, the military and Jacksonville makes us a good private partner to the public entity and to the city itself. We’ve been embraced by our home as the go-to place to do banking; in places like Duval, Nassau and Clay counties, we have as much as 40-45% of households, an unheard of market penetration, even for strong financial institutions. We have a reciprocal relationship, we give above-average rates, lower fees and lower loan rates that allow people to live better lives. We also engage with our community by supporting organizations. In the past year, we donated around $3.5 million to more than 200 organizations and are proud sponsors of the city’s development, from the Emerald Trail to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the POW/MIA Memorial & Museum. The city can rely on us to step up and ask others to follow and help build a better community.
How has demand changed for your various services and business lines, and what does that say about the state of the market?
We are in a state that is experiencing significant growth. The same can be said for the region. As we bring ourselves forward to be a more competitive financial institution, the city is doing the same, so we are benefiting from both changes. A resurgence is taking place in Downtown Jacksonville. We are investing in the city by supporting various projects around town such as the Emerald Trail, the Museum of Science & History, and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Large companies have set up in the city and new training facilities are coming up; there is also the prospect of a Four Seasons hotel and the development of more apartment complexes. The area is growing at a fast pace and as we get more national attention, competition and growth will continue to increase.
Are there any legislative or regulatory changes that could have an effect on your operations, either positive or negative?
At a state level, there are no relevant legislative changes that would have a direct impact on our operations. However, we are hoping to encourage public deposits for credit unions, which is currently not allowed in the state of Florida. We are present in small communities across the state but despite there not being banking institutions, they can’t do their banking services with us.
We have been active in the merger and acquisition space; we are in the middle of our second acquisition, buying a bank with $1.5 billion in assets that will help us expand across the state of Georgia. We have also invested in fintech but we will hit a cap soon. We are pushing regulatory changes at a federal level so we can continue to acquire and invest.
What is your outlook for the next three to five years?
The banking sector’s outlook is strong. We’re having a good year; we are growing, and we are doing well financially as most of the banks are right now.
Jacksonville will continue to grow as well, as we can see with more companies establishing or growing here, such as FIS, SoFi and Dun & Bradstreet. We’ve made significant investments in Downtown Jacksonville and into fintech, so we will see workforce redistribution. We’re doing our part to help the city and encourage others to move here and bring more jobs. I’m very positive about both the national outlook for banking and financial services and credit unions, as well as specifically the sector in Florida and then Northeast Florida. I think each is sort of better than the other.
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