Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

Achieva Credit Union: Focused on basics yet ready to startle financial status quo

DUNEDIN

For two very different reasons, we're on a whirlwind tour of the headquarters of Achieva Credit Union with CEO Gary Regoli.

Part of the visit is to see what 180 Achieva employees do there, from mortgage and business lending to human resources, marketing, IT and a closed-door room where online business banking services are being tested.

The other part of the tour is a trip through a long cultivated credit union culture. Halfway through the 2-story Achieva facility we halt by a wall. Adorning it is a floor-to-ceiling, hand-painted tree festooned with photos of Achieva employees, grouped by departments as if nesting in the leafy tree branches.

It seems sentimental, almost cornball. Yet it touches the credit union industry's historical roots, built on everyone pulling together to help a common cause, the communities where Achieva operates and, of course, each other. That cultural bond is a big reason why Achieva — whose branch signs bear the motto "Banking for Good" — earned the No. 1 ranking in the Tampa Bay Times 2016 "top workplace" survey for midsized companies. Folks like working where it feels like they make a difference.

Achieva's not the biggest credit union serving the Tampa Bay market. Suncoast, Grow Financial and GTE, all credit unions based in Tampa, are all larger by assets. But Regoli says the $1.4 billion Achieva is growing, most recently stretching its branches down to Lee and Charlotte counties to the south. And the CEO says Achieva's size is approaching an economy of scale he hopes will keep it in good shape amid a low unemployment but still lackluster economy.

If credit unions are oil, commercial banks are water. They don't mix and historically have fought long wars over their differences. Credit unions are tax-exempt, which angers tax-paying banks as an unfair advantage. But banks can raise money by issuing stock and paying excess profits to shareholders. Credit unions' members own their institutions.

So it came as a shock when Achieva last year acquired for $23.2 million Calusa Bank of Punta Gorda and converted it into the Achieva credit union fold. It was the first "whole bank" acquisition by a credit union buying all the stock of a bank, not just some of its assets and deposits.

Regoli says the deal made sense because Calusa operated where Achieva wanted to grow, and many of Calusa's services dovetailed nicely with Achieva's consumer services.

Was it a risky deal for a modest credit union? Maybe. Regulators, stunned by the lack of precedent of such a deal between rival financial industries, took months approving it. Now industry analysts wonder if it's a breakthrough transaction.

But Regoli has never been afraid to push the envelope. Here's what one industry peer said about Regoli in 2008 after the credit union executive opted to leave his CEO job in Kansas at Boeing Wichita Credit Union to head Achieva.

"I think he's an agent of change. He's a risk-taker, and I think when he makes a commitment to something he sees it through."

It seems little has changed.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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