Orlando Business Journal
November 26, 2010

Tobin: Fairwinds uses high-tech apps to attract younger members
By Sarah Kezer

A school assignment rarely turns into a job opportunity, but that's exactly how Larry Tobin got into the credit union industry. While attending the University of Central Florida for his undergraduate finance degree, Tobin was required to interview someone in his field and chose Fairwinds Credit Union, Central Florida's second-largest credit union, with $1.6 billion in total assets as of June 30, 2010.

After speaking with the manager, Tobin ended up with a part-time teller job and worked his way up the company ladder to president and CEO.

Tobin didn't initially intend to stay with the credit union, but he enjoyed what he was doing. "I liked what they stand for and how they helped people," he said.

Twenty-nine years later, Tobin still works at Fairwinds, which has about 550 employees, $1.3 billion in deposits and more than 144,000 members in Central Florida.

Major changes affecting the credit union industry: We have been bombarded with new regulations. I've seen more change in the last two years than during the past 20 years.

How the recession has affected credit unions: We can't offer as attractive rates because of new rules. A lot of regulations are designed to protect consumers, but that's inherent in who we are; we are already doing that. The devaluing of real estate also has had an effect.

How that compares to the impact on banks: Banks that have large portfolios of business and commercial lending are being hit very hard by land and construction projects being put on hold or ending altogether.

Federal legislation I'm watching: I'm hoping some of the regulations passed in the Restoring American Financial Stability Act will be repealed. It covers more than 200 pieces of regulation. In some cases, shortly after we have been asked to implement changes and have done so, they are repealed or changed.

How the number of credit union mergers has changed in the past couple of years: Mergers have increased. There are fewer credit unions today than a year ago. Some are joining forces to compete better.

How technology is driving business among our members: Technology is critically important. Today, there are few reasons a member would need to use a branch location, but since we are in the relationship business, we like to visit with our members face to face.

New products or services driving business: We have an iPhone application, giving members mobile access and text message alerts.

How the high unemployment rate and lack of consumer confidence affect credit unions: Because of job losses, it has become more difficult for people to repay their mortgage or auto loans. Fortunately, credit unions were born out of the depression and are designed with the highest safety standards. We still are thriving and helping people but it's been more challenging.

How the recent credit card compliance requirements affect credit unions: Some features, such as open-end lending that were enforced and retracted after the fact, had detrimental aspects.

Why it's important for credit unions to attract younger members: Younger members are the future to everything. Our target market is 18- to 34-year-olds.

What credit unions are doing to attract younger members: Our high-tech services, our go green initiatives and starting programs with institutes like University of Central Florida to educate young people on personal finance management. We also have Fairwinds University, which educates consumers on how to better manage their money.

The biggest headaches of the job: New regulations.

Worst business advice I've gotten: To make a short-term decision.

Larry Tobin

Title: President and CEO, Fairwinds Credit Union.

Education: Bachelor's in business finance, University of Central Florida; bachelor's in music and master's in business administration, Rollins College; certified chief executive designation, Credit Union Executives Society CEO Institute.

Little-known fact: I'm passionate about music.

Biggest business accomplishment: I'm very proud of our partnership with the Orlando Magic, Broadway Across American and UCF.

How long on the job: Since 1981.

Contact: (407) 277-5045.