This edition of Profiles in Business focuses on what makes FAIRWINDS Credit Union unique, how it responded to the pandemic and how it helps advance Broad-based Prosperity™ throughout the Orlando region.
The Orlando business community is rich with high-performing business leaders and innovative companies. In an effort to foster a more connected community, the Orlando Economic Partnership presents “Profiles in Business,” a series highlighting the region’s top executives, leaders and businesses whose products, services and initiatives are changing the world right in our own backyard.
This edition of Profiles in Business features FAIRWINDS Credit Union and CEO and President Larry Tobin, Executive Vice President and COO Phil Tischer, Executive Vice President of Marketing Dianne Owen and Vice President of Government Affairs and Community Relations and Executive Director of the FAIRWINDS Foundation, Elisha González, who share what makes the credit union unique, how it responded to the pandemic and how it helps advance Broad-based Prosperity™ throughout the Orlando region.
What is FAIRWINDS Credit Union
FAIRWINDS Credit Union is headquartered in Orlando and consistently ranked as one of the best financial institutions and employers in the region. It was established in Port Washington, NY in 1949 as the USN Special Devices Center Federal Credit Union before relocating to Orlando in 1965 and changing its name to Navy Orlando Federal Credit Union in 1968 with the renaming of the Naval Training Center. In 1995, when plans to close the Navy base facility in Orlando were announced, it changed its name to FAIRWINDS Federal Credit Union, reflecting its ability to adapt to member needs while maintaining its historical roots. The nautical link comes from the Naval greeting “Fair Winds and Following Seas,” a phrase of well wishes.
FAIRWINDS currently has $3 billion in assets and 572 crewmembers across 32 branches throughout Central Florida in Osceola, Volusia, Seminole, Lake and Orange Counties and beyond.
Larry Tobin, FAIRWINDS’ president and CEO, says the credit union has grown alongside the Orlando region’s population.
“The Orlando Region is booming, and we love its diversity. We love to see the growth of this community because that’s what fuels our growth.”Larry Tobin, FAIRWINDS’ President and CEO
FAIRWINDS operates with a mission to help its members along their journey to financial freedom by providing sound financial advice, products and services. Its goal is to help members save more, eliminate debt, build wealth and live generously.
“FAIRWINDS prides itself on being a financial partner who doesn’t want its members to have debt,” says Dianne Owen, FAIRWINDS’ executive vice president of marketing. “It exists to help members save more, eliminate debt, build wealth and live generously. Anyone who is ready to get on the path to financial freedom is welcome to become a member.”
FAIRWINDS’ member-first mentality is infused in its culture. “The goal to stop the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle for members applies internally as well,” says Elisha González, who serves as FAIRWIND’s Vice president of government affairs and community relations as well as the executive director of the FAIRWINDS Foundation. “Our CEO challenged all employees to the debt-free challenge, and several belong to the debt-free club.”
How FAIRWINDS Responded to the Pandemic
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FAIRWINDS tweaked its business model to provide all services via drive-throughs, even offering a drive-through mortgage closing. The credit union was an approved lender as part of the Payment Protection Program and dispersed close to $80 million in relief funds to its business members. It also gave members the option to defer loan payments at no charge, “a much-welcomed extension,” says Phil Tischer, FAIRWINDS’ executive vice president and COO.
“Our IT department mobilized, and we had close to 200 employees that were working from home,” Tischer says. “We also shifted some employees around to different departments and operated contact centers in three different areas, so those who did come in were socially distanced.”
In addition to physical health, FAIRWINDS prioritized employees’ mental health. “Many crew members weren’t taking their allotted time off because they had cancelled vacations,” Tischer says. “They were encouraged to take that time off anyway in an effort to balance crew member mental health. They were also given additional days of sick leave.”
The Future of FAIRWINDS
FAIRWINDS, along with the rest of the banking industry, is prioritizing a shift toward digital banking. It is working to provide technology solutions so customers can do business wherever they are located.
“There’s a stigma that credit unions aren’t as tech-savvy as big banks,” says Tischer. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
“We have the tech and the sophisticated online tools to allow our members to access their money anywhere.”Phil Tischer, FAIRWINDS’ Executive Vice President and COO
Tischer says the credit union is taking the digital banking experience and infusing it with FAIRWINDS’ brand of saving more. “We’re trying to be on the cutting-edge of financial tech when it comes to financial assessment.”
To that end, FAIRWINDS workedwith Quantum Improvements Consulting based out of UCF Research Park to research consumer finance pain points and design an interactive, mobile-first digital financial assessment tool to provide advice for customers on how to become debt free based on established milestones. It is expected to become available in the first quarter of 2021.
How FAIRWINDS Gives Back
A large part of the credit union’s philanthropy comes from the FAIRWINDS Foundation, which was established in 2017 to focus on financial literacy with the goal of helping people experience financial freedom. Its core purpose is to inspire generosity, match generosity, volunteer everywhere, and work with and support organizations that improve lives through financial well-being.
By partnering with agencies that deliver that educational model, such as the Central Florida Urban League, the foundation is able to collectively impact and improve the community’s economic well-being. A recent example is when the foundation partnered with the local educational nonprofit Michelee Puppets Inc. who filmed and created educational videos and developed curriculum for teachers and parents for them to be able to teach children financial literacy, which will be shown on PBS nationwide.
“FAIRWINDS is incredibly committed to the Central Florida community,” González says, which is evident in the credit union’s community involvement. It is the official credit union of the Orlando Magic and the Orlando City Soccer Club as well as the headlining sponsor for Dr. Phillips Center’s Broadway Across America series. It is also the official student banking partner with UCF, with a branch on campus.
“Other financial literacy efforts allowed Seminole County Public Schools Foundation to implement financial literacy curriculum to be taught to all 6th graders in the district. Our partnerships have also impacted UCF students,” González says. “It is a critical time for them and our ability to have outreach to students on campus helps guide them to financial freedom.”
FAIRWINDS’ ethos of financial freedom aligns well with the Orlando Economic Partnership’s (the Partnership’s) mission of advancing Broad-based Prosperity™.
“By educating people early on how to have the means for a better life, we can help not only our members, but the community at large,” González says.
“Financial literacy providers help people get back on track and reach broad-based prosperity through our roadmap and life journey.”Elisha González, FAIRWIND’s Vice president of Government Affairs & Community Relations, Executive Director of the FAIRWINDS Foundation
The Partnership celebrates FAIRWINDS Credit Union for its regional leadership in support of advancing Broad-Based Prosperity™ through its investment. If you are interested in joining or being a sponsor of the Partnership’s regional efforts to advance Broad-Based Prosperity™, please click here to review available opportunities.