LAKELAND, Fla.-After 20 years at the helm of MIDFLORIDA Credit Union, CEO D. Kevin Jones is within spitting distance of achieving one of the goals he set for himself even before he arrived at the credit union back in 1992.

Jones began his career in financial institutions working for a $2-billion bank in Indiana, and before moving on to credit unions, and he told Credit Union Journal that, "One goal I've always had is to reach that $2-billion mark."

MIDFLORIDA CU is getting close at $1.65 billion in assets, which is certainly much closer than what the credit union held when he came aboard two decades ago, when it had $100 million in assets and five branches, and was struggling with its bottom line.

"When I first got here, the board wanted me to shrink the credit union because NCUA had told them we needed to shrink it in order to get the capital and assets up," recalled Jones. "I was 35 years old, I was brash, and I said 'We're going to grow our way out of this.'"


'Start To Build Profits'

Jones began by lowering rates and increasing advertising, including a promotion offering a 5% APR on any loan.

"We were fortunate because we were coming out of recession and people were optimistic about the economy, and we hit at just the right time," he said. "We were able to start to build profits, which allowed us to get our capital ratio back in line and allowed us to start focusing on growth."

Another move that helped MIDFLORIDA early on was expanding the FOM from just teachers and volunteers to students and family members.

"The loan growth took off as membership expanded, and every time we could find an opportunity to expand the membership, we took it."

With its expansion efforts stymied by charter limitations, MIDFLORIDA switched to a community charter in the late 1990s and three years ago converted from a federal to a state charter.

Those moves have helped the credit union to expand into the Tampa market and then later, with a merger with Indian River FCU, to stretch its market area across the Sunshine State's midsection (see related story). "The encore is to live up to our name, which is to be MIDFLORIDA and actually serve the entire center section of the state from coast to coast," said Jones.

While the 160,000-member CU has not placed as much focus on driving greater efficiencies, as many CUs have, Jones noted that the institution has always been cautious with its hiring, controlling expenditures and always keeping an eye on vendor contracts.

"One of the first things I did was to cut back office expenses and put the money to the front office-make sure that it looks good, that there's a great member experience when the member comes in, and we've always had that philosophy," he said. "We're nearly a $2-billion credit union, and instead of building one of these $20-million Taj Mahals, we bought a $2-million building in downtown Lakeland."

These days MIDFLORIDA is "the dominant local financial institution" in the region, said Jones. "But we still have a lot of competition, because of the primary loan products we're looking for." Jones said that there's no one product where MIDFLORIDA has cornered the market; rather, "we've tried to build a lending portfolio and even deposits that are fairly well balanced. We've really tried to basically get a little bit of everything."


How Staff Are Motivated

Staff are incented to push loans, and loan volumes have risen every year for the last several years to a current total of more than $1 billion as of its most recent Call Report. MIDFLORIDA also pushed debit as a way to improve revenue, nearly doubling its total transaction volume and interchange between July of 2009 (1.2 million debit card transactions totaling $500,000 in interchange) and July 2012 (2.2 million debit card transactions totaling $900,000 in interchange revenue).

Since day one, Jones has always focused on setting goals for growth, even if the board thought those goals were "pie in the sky."

When he arrived he set the goal to grow the CU to $500 million. "That seemed ridiculous, but having that goal out there meant a lot, and we stayed focused on that goal for a long time," reflected Jones. "We said if we don't reach that goal we won't be big enough to compete, so for a long time our goal was to hit that $500-million mark. We focused on that and blew by it. Then we set a goal to be a $1-billion CU and we blew by that. We've always tried to reach for the stars and take the attitude that the only way to be competitive is to be sure you're as big as your competitors."





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Florida CU Giant Expands East and West Through Merger - July 31

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