The history of Innovations Financial Credit Union
You’ll probably be glad to hear that we don’t keep your money in a desk drawer anymore. But once upon a time in 1952, your credit union began as a desk drawer in a small office in the U.S. Navy Mine Countermeasures Station in Panama City Beach, Florida. Manned by E.L. Sanderson, the credit union opened once a week to offer basic share accounts and loans.
At that point, Innovations wasn’t even called Innovations. Instead, we were known as the USNMCS Federal Credit Union, and our field of membership included only employees of the Navy Base. When our first year ended, we had $40,000 in assets and were proudly serving 432 members. We were small, but we were already gathering some very loyal fans.
We grew. In the 1960s, we moved into a larger office space in Building 110 at the Navy Base. We hired paid staff and increased the hours of operation. Technology was updated. Instead of posting transactions by hand, we started posting by machine. By the end of the decade, we had 1,455 members and assets of $1 million. (We also began wearing giant bell bottoms, but that’s another story.)
By the 1970s, we were growing by leaps and bounds. To handle the leaps, we added more services and more staff. To handle the bounds, we proudly built our first real stand-alone branch at 910 Thomas Drive. Word spread quickly. While it took seventeen years for the credit union to reach our first $1 million in assets, our second million was reached in only four years.
During the 1980s, a new-fangled contraption called the Automated Teller Machine came into our lives. We accepted the technology enthusiastically and installed the very first ATM in Bay County. (Trust us; it caused a stir.) Our number of branches also grew. After opening a new 23rd Street Branch in 1987, we expanded the Thomas Drive office and added safe deposit boxes.
We also opened our field of membership. Instead of limiting credit union membership to employees of the Navy Base and their families, we started branching out and helping more people in the community. By the 1990s, we added even more members through Select Employee Groups.
Suddenly, we were meeting a much more diverse group of financial needs. Members wanted mortgage services and new ATM networks. They wanted an enhanced audio response system and telephone Bill Pay. And of course, we knew our members certainly deserved all that. So we added all of those services–plus a new credit union website for good measure.
We were really moving towards technology as the new century arrived. Internet Banking and telephone account access made an impressive debut in 2001, forever changing the way our members manage their money. We underwent a major data processing conversion in 2003, improving internal processes and making a huge impact on the quality and speed of our member service. Which was great, because membership expanded even more rapidly once we became a community charter. In December 2003, we could proudly offer our membership to anyone who lived, worked, worshipped, volunteered or went to school in Bay County.
Over the years, our name had changed several different times due to re-designations at the Navy Base. In 2005, we decided to get rid of the acronyms and go with a new look and a progressive new name: Innovations Federal Credit Union.
Expansion continued. After all, with a name like Innovations, we couldn’t just sit there. We remodeled the Thomas Drive facility in 2005, opened a branch in Lynn Haven and purchased property on Back Beach Road. We also merged with Gulf Coast Postal Federal Credit Union in October 2005, which gave us an additional branch on Jenks Avenue in downtown Panama City. This branch grew so much we had to move it to a bigger facility in January 2015.
The 23rd Street Branch was remodeled in 2006–but we didn’t go with the same old, same old. We created a new dialog tower banking concept. It uses the latest technology to process transactions, but it still emphasizes the member service that members really deserve. And with a newsstand, coffee bar, and wireless Internet access, it’s a pretty cushy place to do your banking.
We didn’t want to keep businesses out of the Innovations loop, so we added Member Business Solutions, savings accounts, checking accounts, loans, debit cards and additional partnerships were created–just to make our business members happy.
By 2007, Innovations was seriously living up to the name. We created and launched our Sparking Change brand. We opened another ATM on the Back Beach Road property. And by mid-year of 2007, Innovations’ assets exceeded $105 million with approximately 12,000 members.
In 2009, you could have called us “Renovations.” First, we completely remodeled our Jenks Avenue Branch to infuse our fresh, modern, “Sparking Change” brand. Next, we opened our new Callaway Branch to better serve the financial needs of our many members who live and/or work in this popular area.
And last, but certainly not least, in April of 2009, we cut the ribbon on our bright, shiny new 4,500 square foot branch in Lynn Haven. Replete with the latest technology and filled with warmth and energy, the Lynn Haven Branch offers members an evolution in the concept of “banking” with state-of-the-art dialog towers (no teller windows), a coffee bar and a wireless Internet café.
Obviously, residents of Bay County had been waiting for this type of “banking” experience. Innovations grew 13.4% in 2009 over 2008, surpassing the $150 million mark in total assets.
You know what they say about “all work and no play,” right? So to cap off a truly incredible 2009, we did something delightfully new and fun to say, “Happy Holidays,” to our members and friends. In case you haven’t seen it yet, our Holiday Lip Dub went viral and pulled in over 6,000 views in just a few months (be sure to read all of the comments visitors posted after watching the video).
How to top a year like the one we had in 2009? Well, for one thing, our efforts to communicate what an innovative, caring financial institution we are continued to connect with Bay County residents. By 2010, we had already surpassed the 16,000-member mark.
Never one to rest on our laurels, we immediately jump-started spring with an extensive renovation of our Thomas Drive Branch. It now looks as vibrant and is as member-centric as our other branches. Of course, we incorporated the “Spark Change” look and feel throughout with dynamic graphics and bright, cheerful colors. More importantly, we tore out the old teller line and introduced state-of-the-art dialog towers to promote greater communication between Members and our Member Service Representatives. In April 2013, we opened our Back Beach branch. This is our sixth branch location serving members on the west side of Bay County.
Our 2009 Holiday Lip Dub was a pretty tough act to follow. But we did it. On May 22nd, in conjunction with the grand opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, we staged a Flash Mob in the midst of the festivities. Yep. For four fantastic minutes, Innovations dancers rocked it out to the surprise and delight of the crowd. The Flash Mob was so popular, we performed an encore several weeks later at Friday Fest. To see us at our “spark changing” best and view all of our videos, go to youtube.com/sparkingchange.
In the early months of 2014, we introduced Octane Business Solutions, fueled by Innovations. Octane is a service for small businesses to help them get started and grow through a full line of business products and services.
Toward the end of 2014, we were getting the Lip Dub bug again and created a holiday video to one of our most ambitious productions to date, “Carol of the Bells.” The lyrics were challenging, to say the least, but our team was up for the task and we had a blast putting it together. We hope you have as much fun watching it.
In early 2015, we celebrated the Grand Opening of our Downtown Panama City branch, located at 1038 Harrison Avenue, which replaced our Jenks Avenue branch. The new location offers a bigger space, additional parking, drive-thru lanes and a drive-thru ATM.
Also in 2015, we unleashed our collective creativity with the release of three new high-energy television commercials featuring Auto Loans, VISA® Credit Cards and Membership Benefits. Take a look and a listen. (Warning: the music in these spots may be addictive and could cause side effects such as head bobbing, foot pounding and spontaneous air guitar playing.)
Fast-forwarding to the end of 2016, we wanted to do something a little more intricate with our choreography for our Holiday Lip Dub. So after an exhaustive search for the perfect idea, we took our cues from Pentatonix’s White Winter Hymnal, practiced our little hearts out, and came up with something we think is rather spectacular. Take a look and feel free to sing along with us if you know the words.
The year 2017 saw many changes for us. We updated our website to make it more visually appealing, easier to navigate and totally mobile friendly. Since a large percentage of our members now use their smartphones for just about everything, we wanted to make sure you have a great user experience when using your Innovations mobile app.
The website wasn’t the only thing we updated. Our 23rd Street branch and our Thomas Drive branch both received upgrades in 2017. For the times that you do need to come to a branch, we want your visit to go smoothly, and be completely comfortable and pleasant from the moment you walk through our door.
One very sad change for us in 2017 was the passing of our long-standing Chairman of the Board of Directors, James R. “Jim” Kott passed away on May 1st, and his presence at Board meetings will be missed very much. Taking over as Chairman of the Board of Directors is Rob Fernandez, who has been a member of Innovations since 1995. He has served on both the Innovations Audit Committee and the Board of Directors for many years and is dedicated to keeping your credit union moving successfully forward.
In 2018, we moved the Callaway branch to 123 N. Tyndall Parkway in Panama City to better serve our members who live and work there. The new branch provides additional services such as a drive-thru, drive-thru ATM, and safe deposit boxes—all in a larger, more comfortable area.
Hurricane Michael struck the Bay County area on October 10th and definitely left an impact on everyone. Immediately after the hurricane, member service became the top priority. Even though we faced many challenges like the rest of the area, we knew we needed to open as quickly as possible for our members. Many of our employees put their personal lives on hold to be able to do what was necessary to get the credit union open. Along with access to much needed cash, we implemented several programs to help our members. We offered 90-day deferments on loans, created a special Hurricane Assistance Loan, waived late fees, temporarily suspended credit bureau reporting, and established lines of communication through social media, our website and our Call Center. In addition, we set up a variety of “task forces” to help members receive business/commercial loan assistance, mortgage support, and vehicle damage insurance claims help. Two branches received extensive damages—23rd Street and Harrison Avenue. Our branch on 23rd Street is temporarily closed for repairs. And, we have opened a temporary branch location at the branch on Harrison Avenue.
Hurricane Michael recovery efforts remained ongoing in 2019 as our 23rd Street Branch was fully restored and opened in early March. We were also honored with a number of accolades in 2019 including having our Callaway Branch receive the “Apple of our Eye” Award from the Bay County Chamber of Commerce in February and being named as one of the Best Credit Unions to Work for by Credit Union Journal in September. The year ended on another positive note as we were selected for the Seminole Top 100 list which recognizes the fastest-growing Florida State University alumni-owned or alumni-led businesses.
2020 began on a nice trajectory. Physical asset recovery from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Michael was continuing and progress on many projects that had been delayed by the Category 5 storm was beginning to take place. Our Harrison Avenue branch repairs and reconstruction was completed, and the move was made back to the branch from the temporary building that had been used to serve the members in that area. A fresh look along with new technologies makes serving our members easier and more efficient. Our Thomas Drive branch received a complete exterior makeover with a new roof and an all new paint scheme to better align with our Innovations brand. Updates at our Lynn Haven branch took place in 2020 to increase staff efficiency and member convenience, and we also began construction of the all new 23rd Street flagship branch.
However, no one could have imagined the year that was about to unfold. A global pandemic due to the COVID-19 virus was declared in March 2020. A new vocabulary with words such as PPE, social distancing, and face coverings became universally understood. At all times the safety and soundness of the credit union along with the safety of both our members and Team Members became our highest priority. Lobbies were closed to members at all Innovations’ branches beginning on March 23, 2020 and many Team Members relocated to remote offices, with only essential people working inside branches. This continued until we felt all safety protocols were in place to reopen branches to member traffic on May 11, 2020.
2021 was another successful year of managed growth and stability, as Innovations continues its evolution into a larger credit union. Highlights from 2021 include opening our new branch on 23rd Street and selling the property that was the prior 23rd Street branch. We also gave our Lynn Haven branch a much-needed facelift. At our Thomas Drive branch, we updated our ‘drive-thru’ by relocating our tube system to our lobby, which eliminated the need to have a remote employee inside our drive-thru room. This increased our efficiency at this branch significantly. We are currently in the process of securing property for a corporate office that will become the new home to our growing Member Business Lending and Mortgage Departments, as well as Administration.
Several new programs were introduced in 2021. Feefo and Zogo are both unusual names for two long-term initiatives launched in 2021. Feefo is a member survey program that incorporates a Net Promoter Score (NPS) rating and solicits feedback from members anonymously through random selection based upon completed transactions. The objective is to use the feedback provided as another tool to improve our member service delivery. Since implementation, Innovations has received outstanding scores! This proves that our Innovations Team is dedicated to providing service that exceeds expectations. Zogo is a financial literacy app targeting the elusive Gen Z demographic by using gaming and rewards as a learning tool.
Our IGNITE Rewards Checking Account remains a very popular program for our members. In 2021, we paid our IGNITE Account holders over $300,000 in cash rewards! If you haven’t signed up for IGNITE Rewards Checking, do so and start earning cash rewards.
On September 1, 2022, Innovations converted our charter from a Federal to a State-chartered credit union. Included in this conversion is a slight name change from Innovations Federal Credit Union to Innovations Financial Credit Union. It’s small, but meaningful in terms of expanding our membership base to serve surrounding communities, including our neighbors in Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf and Walton counties.
This was something we could not accomplish through our Federal Charter. And, we anticipate other positive changes to come in the remainder of 2022 and beyond.
Our motto is “People Helping People,” and our promise is to “Always provide service that exceeds our members’ expectations through each stage of their lives.”
Our goal is not to be the biggest but the very best financial institution serving our membership. Stay with us and visit this site often so that you’ll always have the latest and greatest connection to all that Innovations has to offer.