Head of market leader SRP sees great potential

With more than $850 million in assets, SRP Federal Credit Union is by far the largest locally based credit union.

 

And excluding Queensborough National Bank & Trust — whose Jefferson County headquarters falls outside the recognized seven-county Augusta-Aiken metro area — SRP is the biggest local financial institution of any kind.

But SRP’s chief executive says the organization’s growth curve is going to get much steeper.

“It’s a nice start,” CEO Harry Gunsallus said of the credit union’s 115,000 members, which is roughly one in every six metro-area residents. “I’d like to see us at 300,000 (members). Then I think we can really start serving the community.”

Gunsallus, who last month celebrated his one-year anniversary at the North Augusta-based credit union, has his sights set on growing the 57-year-old institution’s membership by picking up local bank customers frustrated by the loss of locally based companies such as Georgia Bank & Trust, First Bank of Georgia and Savannah River Banking Co.

Especially Georgia Bank & Trust, the market’s former No. 1 community-based institution, which was acquired earlier this year by Columbia, S.C.-based South State Bank.

“When you see this kind of turmoil in the market, there’s a lot of angst over who is going to step into those shoes,” he said. “I will tell you pointedly the answer is SRP Federal Credit Union is going to step into those shoes.”

He also expects, to a lesser extent, to gain membership from formerly locally based credit unions, the most recent of which is Augusta Metro Federal Credit Union. The former No. 2 local credit union was acquired this past week by Virginia-based PenFed, which last year entered the market by acquiring the Fort Gordon and Community Credit Union.

SRP, as if to punctuate its stability, this past week launched an ad campaign co-branded with the market’s second- and third-largest credit unions – Augusta VAH and Health Center — with a simple message: “We’re not going away.”

“The sign on the door today says SRP, and I suspect 50 years from now the sign on the door will say SRP,” said Gunsallus, who was tapped by SRP’s board last year to replace the retiring Ed Templeton, who had led the organization since 1987.

Gunsallus, a Pennsylvania native, was previously executive vice president at Redstone Federal Credit Union in Huntsville, Ala., a top 25 credit union with $4.4 billion in assets and more than 380,000 members.

In addition to boosting marketing efforts to reiterate its membership is not limited to Savannah River Site-affiliated households — SRP converted to a community charter more than 15 years ago — he’s also pushed to increase the historically reserved organization’s visibility through strategic branding efforts.

This past week SRP and Spectra, operator of James Brown Arena, announced a sponsorship deal giving the credit union branding rights to the arena box office, one of the venue’s three largest advertising spaces.

SRP was chartered in 1960 as Savannah River Plant Employee Credit Union (the institution retained the “SRP” moniker after the facility name changed) but didn’t expand out of Aiken County until the 1980s.

Gunsallus, who said he considers Queensborough and Aiken-based Security Federal Bank his organization’s top two competitors, acknowledged SRP’s future is in Georgia.”

“We will continue to serve South Carolina, but the real opportunity is in Georgia,” he said. “It’s in Augusta. It’s in Grovetown. It’s in Evans. And you’ll see SRP moving there in a bigger way in the next six months.”

Gunsallus also has pushed the 330-employee organization to improve its online and mobile banking capabilities to let potential members open accounts without physically going to a branch, something it refers to as its “Branch on Ya!” campaign.

The online emphasis so far has paid off, with new membership doubling from 3,000 in 2015 to 6,000 last year. More than 7,000 new members have been added so far this year, with about half of them opening accounts without stepping inside a brick-and-mortar location.

SRP plans to roll out an entirely new online banking platform later this year, but Gunsallus, 50, said technology is not going to supplant any of the credit union’s 15 branch offices, where many members prefer to handle transactions face-to-face.

“Every internet-only bank that has ever started has, failed,” he noted.

Gunsallus knows the banking industry well. He says his first “real job” out of the Army and Pennsylvania State University was at Bank of America in California, where he met his future wife Cari. The couple spent two years in Hawaii, where Gunsallus had his first experience working for a credit union, the Hawaii State Federal Credit Union.

After moving back to California, he went to work for a privately-held bank, Placer Sierra Bancshares, that was bought by Wells Fargo, and he was involved in the formation of a start-up bank, Golden Pacific Bancorp, before leaving the state in 2010. He went to work for Redstone, a credit union historically tied to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, whose tenants include the Missile Defense Agency and the Army Materiel Command.

Although the two Southern cities are both home to high-tech military installations, Gunsalles said he is more bullish on Augusta’s potential. He said he wouldn’t have moved his wife and teenage daughters here if he wasn’t.

“It was a hard choice in the context of moving my family out of a great place to live, but this is equally great,” said Gunsallus, who lives in Aiken’s Woodside neighborhood. “I think I’ve bought into the future of Augusta and Aiken more than I have the present of Augusta and Aiken. And we’re looking to do whatever we can to help make that future brighter.”

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com

Get to know Harry Gunsallus

Title: President and CEO, SRP Federal Credit Union

Hometown: Lock Haven, Penn.

Family: Wife Cari; daughters Anna, 14, and Emma, 13

Things to know:

What’s in a name?: The name Gunsallus is of German origin, but when he lived in California, people assumed he was Hispanic. “I was always being asked if that was Gonzales with a ‘z’ or Gonsales with an ‘s,’ ” he said.

Down on the farm: Gunsallus grew up on his family’s farm in central Pennsylvania, which influenced his favorite weekend chores: Yard maintenance. “It’s very different from what I do every day. Mowing the lawn gives me balance and immediate gratification.”

Well read: His wife Cari is a romance novelist who writes under the pen name Cari Lynn Webb for Harlequin’s “Heartwarming” series, the publishing company’s PG-rated line. “These are books that grandma and the granddaughters both can read,” Gunsalles said.

Flipping cars: Gunsalles enjoys buying cars in disrepair, fixing them and reselling them. He started with antiques but now focuses on late-model sports cars and luxury vehicles, the latest being a Corvette and a Mercedes-Benz SL55AMG “I do it more for love than money,” he said. “When you grow up on a farm, you’re always fixing things – tractors, mowers. So I just grew up fixing stuff.”

 

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