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'Art of War'

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 9:44 a.m. April 11, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Finance
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Sherod Halliburton's favorite movie is “It's a Wonderful Life,” and the character he molds himself after, of course, is aw-shucks small town businessman George Bailey.

Halliburton admires Bailey's desire to help the community through the town bank. Now Halliburton will play out the fictional movie in real life by leading a transformation of the Manatee Community Federal Credit Union. He was named president of the Bradenton-based lender in July.

Halliburton's ultimate goal: to build a $400 million-asset lender within a decade that serves people and small businesses that banks and big credit unions overlook. Halliburton also aims to boost the credit union's annual profit to $400,000 in two years and $1 million by 2020. The $25.6 million-asset credit union reported a profit of $222,120 in 2013, National Credit Union Administration data show. That's up 55% over $143,414 in 2012.

“We are like no other financial institution in this marketplace,” Halliburton says. “I want that person that no one else wants. We will take a chance on you.”

Despite the ambitious goals, Manatee Community is something of an anomaly in the region's big-or-go-home credit union industry. Credit unions, member-owned institutions that receive federal tax benefits, have little room for small.

And with less than $30 million in assets and 3,265 members through the end of 2013, Halliburton's 12-employee credit union is teeny compared to most others. Tampa-based Suncoast Credit Union, for example, has $5.5 billion in assets and 569,737 members, according to NCUA data; Tampa-based GTE Financial has $1.61 billion in assets and 212,216 members; Tampa-based Grow Financial has $1.94 billion in assets and 166,992 members; and Largo-based Achieva has $1 billion in assets and 112,681 members.

Halliburton, who once worked for consumer credit giant Equifax in Atlanta, says Manatee Community's small size is an advantage in that he hopes competitors, both banks and peers, underestimate it. Small, he says, also provides flexibility to stay nimble and adapt quickly to customers' needs. “I look at this like the art of war,” he says. “I don't fight my battles in the ocean.”

The Manatee Community makeover started when longtime president Cindy Barco retired last year. The board of the credit union, which six Tropicana employees launched in 1958 with a $30 deposit, looked to Halliburton, a board member from 2007 to 2012, to replace Barco. The former executive director of the Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency, Halliburton was already at Manatee Community, in an executive vice president position.

Halliburton quickly made some changes. He promoted four managers to stretch their autonomy and decision-making ability, and he took on a more visionary role. Another big step was an investment, near $1 million, to expand the corporate office and enhance the credit union's technology system.

On the building, he oversaw a project that basically doubled the size of the office, in downtown Bradenton, to about 5,500 square feet. On the technology side, the credit union updated its internal software and the systems customers use to pay bills online.

Manatee Community, through Halliburton, also recently expanded its small business loan operation. The credit union now has a $5 million business loan fund, says Halliburton, that will start with $50,000 loans to Bradenton-based small businesses. He hopes to expand to SBA loans and raise the cap to $150,000 in the near future.

Halliburton knows commercial loans are a step out for Manatee Community and a step toward the traditional domain of banks. So he will move carefully. “We realize there is a void in the marketplace,” says Halliburton. “But we are going to stay in our lane.”

Halliburton's biggest challenge, not surprising considering the industry, is the ominous reach of regulators, from loan procedures to the size, locations and accessibility of its ATMs. He thought some in the industry exaggerated regulation anxiety when he was an outsider. But now he sees it's for real. Regulations, Halliburton says, can “change how you operate in a major way. And it can happen overnight.”


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