Making Each Day a Good One

With their dedication to their members and to the community that keeps them going strong, President and CEO Sarah O’Brien and her staff are making their presence felt at NavyArmy Community Credit Union.

By: Sarah Tindall // Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft

 

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Sarah O’Brien serves as president and CEO of NavyArmy Community Credit Union, where she has worked since shortly after her college days.

She’s seen the group grow from 30 employees and $30 million in assets to hundreds of employees and $2.2 billion in assets – a remarkable growth that she attributes to NavyArmy’s ability to meet members’ needs quickly and easily without the encumbrance of shareholders or excessive fees.

O’Brien’s own career path was almost as fast-paced as NavyArmy’s growth. In 1985, a few months before graduating from college in Louisiana, she came to Corpus Christi to visit her mother for Thanksgiving. Her mother welcomed her home, and then informed her daughter that she had set up a job interview for her here. She was offered the job, and after graduating in December, she moved to the Coastal Bend to work at San Patricio Credit Union (now Security Service Credit Union).

“It was a great interview, and I feel so lucky I didn’t go work for any of the banks because so many of them are gone now!” she laughed. But she learned plenty in her first two years, and she thanks Atilla Pattin, president of the credit union, for showing her the ropes and introducing her to the business.

A year later, in January 1987, a headhunter came calling with an offer from NavyArmy. O’Brien jumped at the chance, and found herself two-and-a-half years later, at 26 years old, as acting president.

“The president was no longer here, so I was acting president for five months before they brought in Wayne Vann on December 1 of 1988,” O’Brien said. “He said he would only come work here if I were going to stay. We split the business; he was lending, collections and marketing, and I was operations, accounting and HR, and that’s how it worked for 25 years.”

The partnership worked. NavyArmy has grown from a small credit union on the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi Base serving servicemen and their families to now 135,000 members and 17 locations in the Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley.

O’Brien says it’s the people who keep her coming back to work every day – both the members themselves and the staff who make it all happen every day. “I have literally grown up with this credit union,” she said. “I’ve been given lots of opportunities to do just about anything here. I’m not the only one; several of our board members have been with us the entire time I’ve been here, too.”

The advantage for NavyArmy, O’Brien contends, is in the structure of the credit union. “When you’re a bank, you have shareholders and customers and you have to make enough money to pay both – dividends for the shareholders and interest to the customers,” she said. “In a credit union, the shareholder and the customer are the same person – every member has one vote. Everyone is the same, no matter how much they have in their account. Because we only have to pay that one person, we can charge less on loans and pay more on deposits. A credit union is a cooperative – a union of people designed to loan money from folks who have it to those who need it.”

But members get all the advantages of small-town, friendly, knowledgeable staff that comes from a local credit union. “Although we are the sixth largest credit union in Texas, we are still small compared to the banks,” O’Brien said. “Credit unions only hold about 2 percent of the entire deposit base in the nation. If you took every credit union and added them together, we still don’t add up to the largest bank in America.”

But with 17 locations in South Texas, a record center and a real estate center, plus an administrative building, this small-town business is making its presence felt. “We plan on staying relevant and keeping the products coming that the people want, like mobile banking, deposit and lending,” O’Brien said. “We also have to keep the locations, because people still want to come in to get things done. But we’re still a local institution. People call me on the phone directly when they need to talk to me; they don’t call New York and talk to somebody’s assistant.”

NavyArmy has found its niche with great customer service, providing great rates on products that people need such as car, home, boat and signature loans, checking and savings accounts, IRAs and debit cards.

But they are also recognized in the Coastal Bend for the tremendous amount of community involvement they contribute each year. “We believe in being involved because it’s the community that makes us who we are,” O’Brien said. “Our top priorities are health, education and the welfare of children.”

NavyArmy staff volunteers at Junior Achievement and at local schools, teaching financial education to students, and they participate in March of Dimes, Driscoll Children’s Hospital and many other organizations raising money and awareness. “We gave 3,500 volunteer hours back to the community in 2014, and our staff are so happy to do it,” O’Brien said.

From staff nights out and volunteering at community events, to fun team building activities, O’Brien and the folks at NavyArmy Community Credit Union are making each day a good one for members and staff alike.

 

For more information or to find a location near you, visit or call 800-622-3631.

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