This past spring, Louis Chapa headed to a dinner club near the Navy Federal Credit Union branch he manages in Singapore to grab a bite with a fellow employee.
While there, he ran into a 50-year member of Navy Federal by the name of Sammy Davis Jr. (no relation to the late crooner). Davis, an octogenarian who was vacationing in Singapore with his new bride, ordered a “bucket of beer” and invited Chapa and his colleague to join him for a round of drinks.
Chapa and his colleague passed on the drinks but ordered burgers and fries instead—and listened in as Davis relived his glory days on the U.S.S. Midway, the longest-serving aircraft carrier in U.S. history.
“I know about you sailors,” Chapa winked—and pulled out a photo of a pair of longstanding members of another Navy Federal branch he manages in Sasebo, Japan, who had also served in the U.S. Navy back in the day.
“Oh, my goodness,” Davis exclaimed, pointing to William “Bill” Cloonan, one of the men in the photo. (The other man in the photo, also named Bill, is a good friend of Cloonan’s and affectionately known around the branch as one of the “two Bills” of Sasebo.)
“I was on a ship with him in 1971!” Davis exclaimed, laying eyes on a face he hadn’t seen in decades. Chapa seized the opportunity to make a connection. He snapped a photo with Davis and sent it to his employees, who then showed it to Cloonan, a 38-year member of the Sasebo branch, on his next visit.
Cloonan lit up when he saw the photo of his long-lost Navy buddy Sam. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It immediately brought back good memories for me.” The small-world moment made Chapa’s day, too.
“We have over 13 million members, and, through Navy Federal, I was able to connect with shipmates who served together a half-century ago!” he said in disbelief.
A Deposit in the "Bank" of Relationships
Chapa likened the moment to a deposit in a “bank” of relationships, the kind of service on which Navy Federal—a nonprofit credit union that puts member service above all else—prides itself. Commercial banks don’t go to these lengths to build relationships with their members, he said. “Navy Federal does.”
“It’s not just me, but all the members. The credit union makes the experience very personable.”
Chapa and his teammates are celebrating a half-century of such moments this month as they mark 50 years in Sasebo, a branch that first opened its doors on December 7, 1973.
For Chapa, these moments include asking newcomers where they were when they joined Navy Federal, which often yields nostalgic reflections on military service around the globe, from Hong Kong to the Philippines. They include attending a recent memorial service for a Veteran in the Sasebo community and reminiscing about his life with friends over a shared dinner. They include helping a young widow cope financially and emotionally with the loss of a husband who died while on deployment, leaving her alone to care for their daughter.
These are the moments that form the connective tissue of a tightly knit community on a tropical island in southwestern Japan that was heavily damaged during World War II and revived in the decades since. And these are moments worth celebrating, Chapa said, noting that, for some members, Navy Federal is “the only bit” that still connects them or their spouses to their home country. To commemorate a half-century of these moments, the Sasebo branch is holding a “Membership Appreciation Day", where a big birthday cake, snacks and free Navy Federal merchandise will be on offer.
Navy Federal’s Sasebo branch isn’t the only one celebrating a half-century of such moments this year.
Two other branches in Japan also opened their doors in 1973. Navy Federal’s Camp Foster branch provides roughly 3,000 Active Duty Marines and their families with essential financial services, such as mortgages, retirement savings accounts and wire transfers. The smaller branch at Camp Kinser, just a few miles away, serves a little over 200 members of the military community.
“These branches have played a key role in supporting forward-deployed servicemembers, government employees and contractors and their families at 'the tip of the spear' in the Pacific theater,” says Navy Federal Field Assistant Vice President John Funk, who leads regional branches in South Korea and Okinawa. Supporting members’ financial health and well-being, and providing financial education to the military community, also directly contributes to warfighting readiness, he adds.
Stateside, Navy Federal branches in Jacksonville, FL and San Diego, CA are celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year. And, a branch on Whidbey Island in Washington state is celebrating its 25th. A number of other branches are celebrating their years of member service.
Last but not least, Navy Federal’s Pensacola campus marked 20 years of growth and impact this fall. Over the last 2 decades, Navy Federal’s Greater Pensacola Operations has grown from a single, low-rise building to a magnificent, college-like campus, employing nearly 10,000 people and strengthening the region’s economy, education system and more.
“It’s been remarkable to watch our little satellite shop grow into an operational juggernaut,” said Sebron Andrews, who was one of GPO’s first employees and has since risen to senior IT manager. “We sometimes have to pinch ourselves; we’re part of something pretty special.”
Navy Federal champions these milestone anniversaries as it looks to the future with excitement and anticipation—even as the larger banking industry hit challenges this year, President and CEO Mary McDuffie said in a recent statement.
This spring saw high-profile failures of Silicon Valley and Signature Banks. Then, Moody’s, a global risk assessment firm, downgraded credit ratings for several small to midsize banks, put larger banks on notice and changed its outlook for some major lenders to “negative” amid waning consumer confidence. At the same time, Navy Federal surpassed 13 million members this year—and plans to add 18 new branch locations over the next 2 years due to large demand.
One reason for Navy Federal’s continued growth, even in financially uncertain times, is its nonprofit business model, McDuffie said. “We don't focus on shareholder returns, so we can put members first in ways that drive consistent growth.”
One important way to do that is knowing and connecting with members, whether at branches in the Far East or in the United States. “Our members are the mission, and that means recognizing the history of their journey,” Chapa said. “Navy Federal has 13 million members, but we know Bill and we know Sam.”
The personal touch “means a great deal” to members like Cloonan, who “does everything” through Navy Federal. Navy Federal “has been there for me in my everyday life,” he said.
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