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MacDill to open its gates to a bank branch on base

The approval means MacDill Federal Credit Union no longer will be the only option for full-service banking.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001

MacDill Federal Credit Union is bracing for a direct assault.

The credit union, which has grown into an institution with $790-million in assets thanks in part to its exclusive turf on MacDill Air Force Base, is about to get its first real taste of competition.

Following the lead of other military installations, MacDill is soliciting national and local banks to establish a commercial branch on base. With the Pentagon's blessing, a bank will be picked by summer to open a full-service branch inside the base exchange.

The bank will have access to much of the Tampa base's wealth, starting with its captive audience of 7,000.

"Our people don't get a whole lot of places (off base) during the work day, so that's probably the biggest lure," said Air Force Capt. Derren Burrell, who, as financial services flight commander, holds the base's purse strings.

Burrell said his office, which pays for all base operations and gives soldiers cash when they are deployed abroad, would use the chosen bank as its depository. Its average monthly deposits are about $101,000.

There is potential business from the commissary, which has about $4-million a month in deposits. The officers' club and enlisted club are likewise possible clients.

And then there is the exchange, which processes more than 20,000 checks a month and boasts an average daily collected balance of almost $300,000.

"There's potential for the base exchange to use them heavily since they'd be in the same building," Burrell said. "They'd do practically all their commercial banking with them is my guess."

The search was prompted by troop complaints about the lack of financial options. Currently, Bank of America Corp. has an automated teller machine on the base but no branch.

"I got here about eight months ago and that was one of my charges within a couple months: I have to secure a bank," Burrell said.

Those could be construed as fighting words to the organization that now holds much of the base's financial business, MacDill Federal Credit Union.

But Bob Fisher, the credit union's president, was nonchalant when told about MacDill's plans.

"We have no trouble with anybody offering alternatives," Fisher said. "From a competitive standpoint that doesn't concern me at all. We're still going to beat the pants off of them."

Fisher said attempts to put a bank branch on base years ago failed because banks couldn't make the profits they need nor compete with better rates at the credit union.

Indeed, some base services such as commissary deposits already are handled by banks, Fisher said. And services such as handling cash for deployments is hardly lucrative for the credit union. "It's almost a cost pass-through for us," he said.

Air Force officials said they never told the credit union directly about their plan and they're sure it poses a threat.

But Fisher insists that, with 114,000 members in the bay area, the credit union long ago stopped seeing itself as confined to its military origins. "Our home turf is the five counties we have branches in," he said.

- Contact Jeff Harrington at or (813) 226-3407.

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