For the chief executive of VyStar Credit Union, the outage of online banking services in the summer of 2022 and the cancellation of the agreement to purchase a Georgia commercial bank were lessons learned.
“An experience like this summer definitely humbles me and other members of our institution and allows us to slow down and check that we are doing what is best for our members,” the president said. and CEO Brian Wolfburg during a Sept. 12 interview.
“And I truly believe we are.”
Wolfburg said VyStar is moving forward, focusing on expanding to 26 branches in Georgia over the next three years and becoming “the credit union of the Southeast.”
The Jacksonville-based credit union’s online and mobile banking systems were down for more than a month this summer.
It all started on May 13 with what was supposed to be a planned 48-hour outage as VyStar worked with its new software provider, Nymbus Inc., to upgrade its digital banking products.
The system has been operational since June, but users told Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com in May that they were unable to log in through a desktop or mobile app or view transactions online. online and had to go to physical branches to pay the bills. and do their banking.
Some told News4Jax that they were still seeing long connection times for days after the patches were put in place. Others said they were considering leaving VyStar after years of membership.
Wolfburg said there was an increase in closed memberships and a slowdown in new ones at the time of the outage.
In the second quarter of 2022, which includes the time of the outage, VyStar reported growth of 6,832 members, according to a VyStar spokesperson and documents the credit union filed with the National Credit Union Association.
This slowdown appears to have reversed.
The credit union says it grew by more than 18,000 members in the third quarter of 2022.
That’s 22% more than the third quarter of 2021 and the second-highest month of member growth in credit union history, according to VyStar vice president of communications Pauline Gerry.
From Q4 2021 to Q1 2022, VyStar grew by 15,921 members.
Wolfburg said as of Sept. 12, the credit union was growing at an average rate of 250 new members per day and adding 5,000 to 7,000 per month.
VyStar registered 829,287 members in its latest report to the NCUA, certified July 26.
Based on performance, marketing and advertising spend, and comparison of pricing and fees with competitors, Wolfburg said VyStar expects to reach 850,000 to 860,000 members by the end of 2022. .
Wolfburg acknowledges that the outage has caused “challenges” for VyStar customers and he is “not looking for a pass”.
But he said his members were “loyal and resilient” and “stand with us”.
Georgia and beyond
In August, VyStar opened its first Georgia branch in Thomasville, about 35 miles northeast of Tallahassee. This was the credit union’s 65th full-service branch.
Wolfburg said it was the first of 26 branches planned for the state in an expanded scope that includes 26 counties in the southern, southeast and metro Atlanta regions.
The move follows VyStar’s push south into the Florida Peninsula and the Panhandle in recent years, opening locations in Titusville, Melbourne, The Villages and Tallahassee and expanding its member reach in St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Wolfburg said he sees more opportunities for market and branch expansion in Orlando and to Florida’s Gulf Coast.
VyStar’s desire is to become more regional and “best in class,” he said.
As of June 30, VyStar had approximately $13.03 billion in assets.
To compete with national and regional commercial banks, Wolfburg says VyStar has created new products, including mortgages for the military and everyday heroes; launched adoption loans; the expansion of auto loans; purchased insurance agencies; and eliminated about 75% of its fees.
“A lot of the big regional and national banks keep getting bigger and staying relevant to be competitive, to win, to make sure we’re able to be there and do good for our communities, it’s going to take gaining that scale and gain that efficiency and bring it back into our business,” Wolfburg said.
The CEO said states like Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas “wouldn’t be out of our sights” in the long run.
Wolfburg said VyStar is streamlining its community giving by launching the VyStar Foundation. It will begin accepting grant applications from nonprofit organizations in early 2023.
VyStar says it gave more than $6.8 million to more than 300 nonprofits in 2021.
Head office and downtown development
VyStar added 150 positions in 2021 and now has approximately 2,000 employees.
Wolfburg said VyStar will maintain a hybrid work model and have 600 to 700 employees at its headquarters at 76 S. Laura St. most days.
In March 2021, Wolfburg said up to 1,200 credit union employees could eventually work downtown, and it said Sept. 12 that it expects to meet that goal.
“I’m a big person in the office and I definitely see the advantage of this (hybrid work model) versus a fully remote environment. But I can see the benefits, even for myself and my family, as well as what I’m hearing from my employees about the remote parts of our hybrid work model,” he said.
When VyStar purchased the downtown properties for its headquarters, it retained tenants who rented there.
As leases expired and tenants moved out of the VyStar tower at 76 S. Laura St. and its adjacent office building at 100 W. Bay St., Wolfburg said it was able to absorb that space with its own staff.
The latest expansion of the credit union’s downtown campus is a $21 million, 807-space parking lot at 28 W. Forsyth St. Wolfburg said it should be complete by the end of the year .
VyStar is talking to a few retailers to fill the ground floor retail space on the Laura Street side of the building which Wolfburg says will bring this hallway and Laura and Hogan streets to life.
Wolfburg said VyStar has not signed an agreement for this space, but expects it to be a company that brings people downtown and offers customers day and evening options, as well as more places to visit before and after events.
“We work with local individuals and lean to make sure people can get the spaces they need and to bring more vitality to downtown,” he said.
Wolfburg dispelled rumors that the space would become a pharmacy or some other type of “daily driver” service.
The search for tenants follows VyStar’s announcement in July that the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus would move its headquarters to space on the main street side of the garage.
In total, the garage will have 19,516 square feet of retail space.
Wolfburg said two 350-square-foot bays on Forsyth Street could be leased to nonprofits for office and tutoring or retail use.
For VyStar, profiting from rent is not its main objective.
“These aren’t normal retail relationships where we’re looking to get the highest level of rent or make sure they’re national brands,” Wolfburg said.
VyStar contributed nearly $500,000 last year to help develop the 30-mile Emerald Trail multi-use trail that will connect downtown neighborhoods to the Downtown Riverwalk and includes a bike path on Hogan Street.
The credit union also offered a $1.5 million line of credit to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ships Association to bring the USS Orleck battleship museum to Northbank.
Despite problems implementing VyStar’s online banking products, Wolfburg said Nymbus remains the credit union’s business partner and has moved its headquarters to the VyStar Tower in Miami Beach.
“We continue to move forward with them and the technology we bought from them,” Wolfburg said.
“We still believe we made the right choice in going with Nymbus and we will partner with Nymbus in the future,” he said.
In 2021, the city council and state approved a combined grant of $4.53 million for Nymbus to move to Jacksonville and create 673 full-time jobs by the end of 2024.
The city’s portion was $1.83 million.
Nymbus did not respond to requests for current rosters in Jacksonville.
VyStar has invested $20 million in the service organization Nymbus Credit Union. Nymbus lists it as a lead investor in Nymbus CUSO.
The financial software company will occupy approximately 15,000 to 17,000 square feet of the tower’s 13th floor, VyStar COO Chad Meadows said in October 2021.
Wolfburg said VyStar will continue to improve its digital product offerings as it grows and has confidence in Nymbus.
“I think they learned something,” he said. “And I think that makes us both better and stronger going forward.”