TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-For 30 years Jim Park has headed Credit Union 24, one of only two surviving interstate electronic funds transfer networks exclusively for credit unions. The CEO will retire at year's end and will be succeeded by Mansel Guerry. Park spoke with Credit Union Journal about his career in the industry, offering observations on the growth of ATM transactions, the importance of collaboration within the industry, and how one simple decision years ago led to his long career.
Credit Union Journal: Why did you decide to retire?
Park: After three decades of working with CU24, I felt it was the right time to step down and give someone else a chance to enjoy leading one of the truly great credit union organizations. Plus, it will let me spend more time with my family. I might even get back into scuba diving.
CUJ: How did your involvement with CU24 begin?
Park: In the late '70s and early '80s I was marketing director at Jax Navy CU (now VyStar CU) in Tallahassee, and also served as acting branch manager on some Saturdays. I would manage one of our military base offices, and when we opened our doors on Saturdays we always had a line of soldiers wanting access to $10 or $15 for the weekend. I said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we had an ATM through our wall so these guys could come up at any time and get some money-not wait in line, and we could utilize our staff for other things?' We ended up installing four ATMs at our locations and had the highest ATM transaction volume in Florida for a long time, doing 10,000 to 12,000 transactions a month.
That gave me experience with ATMs, and when the four credit union leaders who ran CU24 realized they didn't have the time to do it themselves and went looking for a full-time employee, I was one of the few people in Florida with credit union, marketing, and ATM experience.
CUJ: What were the early days like running CU24?
Park: CU24 was created by four central Florida credit unions in 1981 and run through the Florida CU League. I came in during 1982 as the first employee, and we soon became a three-person operation, outsourcing our switching to ADP, which eventually became Fiserv. We handled card production through a few different vendors. We started meagerly and grew slowly.
CUJ: At what point did growth at CU24 take off?
Park: In 1998 we became a co-operative, purchasing ownership from the league. By the first planning meeting as a new organization we reached the 1 million-transaction-a-month milestone. The board decided our goal for the following year would be to reach 2 million transactions per month by year's end. I said, 'It took us 15 years to get to one million, I'm not sure we can double that in one year.' But we did. We got involved with POS and by the third year following that first planning meeting we were close to 4 million transactions per month and eventually 20 million today. We now have 32 employees.
CUJ: So POS made a big impact on ATM networks?
Park: POS was the big turning point for us and for all networks that came into being. There were attempts to do POS in the late '60s and early '70s. But not until the mid-'80s did it take off and that changed the face of the industry.
CUJ: Will the move to mobile drive down ATM volumes?
Park: Even in the '70s there was talk about a cashless society and we are moving toward that today. But there is always space for cash, so people will be looking for ways to get it. I think ATMs will be around longer than me.
CUJ: And the future of the credit union system?
Park: It is strong. However, not if we lose the spirit of co-operation, which is what sets us apart from banks.
CUJ: Anything else about your career you would like to share?
Park: We were one of the first deposit-taking networks, and I was involved with the development of that and with the development of shared branching in Florida-I was part of a regional group of people that put together shared branching. For me it has always been about collaboration and cooperation, and I am proud of that. CU24 has always been about cooperation within the credit union community and always will be as far as I am concerned.
I have also been blessed to work with great people in my life. First, with Don Athearn, former CEO at Jax Navy. He was a mentor to me and many others who went on to become leaders within the CU industry, making sure we understood the history and philosophy of the CU movement. Here at CU24, I have worked with an excellent staff and enjoyed a great board who have been supportive of me and my team throughout the years. I have been very fortunate.