Navy Federal Credit Union may be somewhat misnamed.
The nation’s largest credit union, which says it is also the largest credit union in the world, was formed in 1933 to serve members of the U.S. Navy and Marines but now is open to personnel of any branch of the U.S. military. It opened up its membership to the U.S. Army and Air Force seven years ago.
“Our employees wanted to do it. They like to serve people who serve our country,” said Navy Federal CEO Cutler Dawson on Monday during a visit to its main Jacksonville branch at 11270 St. Johns Industrial Parkway South.
“We felt we had the capacity to serve the Army and Air Force,” he said. “They didn’t have an equivalent in those services to Navy Federal.”
Navy Federal is growing, opening its 247th branch recently with plans to open 60 more branches by 2016.
The growth plan includes Jacksonville, where the credit union of course serves mostly Navy personnel and their families.
Navy Federal opened its eighth Jacksonville area branch last year near The Avenues mall and plans to open its ninth on Fleming Island by the end of this year. It plans three more by 2016.
“We try to target them where we have the largest amount of current members and potential for future members,” Dawson said.
Navy Federal has clusters of branches in several other Navy towns, including Pensacola and Norfolk, Va. It also has branches in foreign countries to serve active duty personnel, including in Italy, Greece, Japan and Bahrain.
As it expands to serve other branches of the military, it has branches in other military towns such as Killeen, Texas, and Fort Riley, Kan.
“We believe we’re a long way from being overbranched,” Dawson said.
In addition to serving active duty personnel and their families, Navy Federal’s field of membership also includes civilians and contractors working at military facilities and their families.
Navy Federal, headquartered in Vienna, Va., has more than 11,000 employees serving its 4.8 million members, with close to 200 employees in Jacksonville.
The St. Johns branch, off of St. Johns Bluff Road north of the St. Johns Town Center, opened in 2012 and also houses mortgage operations and training functions.
Dawson said Navy Federal provides services that military personnel may not be able to get at a typical bank, such as an auto loan for someone with no credit history to buy his or her first car. However, the credit union is conservative in its lending policies.
“We won’t give them more than they need,” Dawson said.
He also said Navy Federal wouldn’t make subprime mortgage loans, which helped during the financial crisis a few years ago.
“We didn’t think it was the right thing for our members to have,” he said. “When the crisis hit, we didn’t have the shock that other lenders had.”
Navy Federal, with about $58.2 billion in assets, reported net income of $218.5 million in the first quarter this year.
Dawson is in Jacksonville this week for a routine visit to the credit union’s local offices.
“I try to get to visit our branches,” he said. “I learn from the members, I learn from the employees. Then I take it back to Virginia.”
Glenn Howe, regional manager for branch operations in North Florida, said Dawson’s visits are good for the credit union.
“It’s important for the members and the team to meet the president,” he said.
Howe said the employees take their responsibility to serve the military seriously.
“It truly is special to us,” he said.