VyStar Credit Union, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, extends excellent rates and exceptional service to its members and employees. “It’s all connected,” says Joel Swanson, the credit union’s chief membership experience officer. The financial union’s focus is maintaining a symbiotic relationship between its members, employees, and the community.

“Our employees live in the communities that we serve, and they help those communities,” says Joel Swanson. So if VyStar does right by the employees and members, it helps the communities. “And if we do right by the communities, that helps [them],” he says. “Our members are our community.”

Swanson adds that success at the credit union boils down to “do good and bank better.” Therefore, it supports many initiatives and offers members many enjoyable perks.

As the chief membership experience officer, Swanson’s focused on giving all 875,000 members of the credit union a simplified, personalized experience. Individuals who work or live in 49 northern Florida counties and 29 Georgia counties are eligible for membership.

He recognizes that collaboration with the fintech industry is imperative to the credit union’s continuing success. Accomplishing that takes partnerships. “It really is a team effort,” he says. “I cannot take credit for it. It is an amazing team. And we realize that what is happening in the fintech space is changing the industry.”

Swanson understands that the credit union must operate at peak efficiency to improve the member’s experience. He says that happens with “growth, scale , and then also through better digital delivery and better self-service options.”

That’s why growth and digital delivery are paramount at the financial institution. Swanson says the goal is “to make it so that when members come into our branches, or they call us, it is because they want to and need that consultation, not because they have to.”

He continues, “[The credit union] wants to ensure that it’s really additive and not because of an issue. So that allows us to add more to that and continue in the growth and scale.”

He has numerous accomplishments at the financial institution. For example, Joel Swanson led the investment of $2.5 million throughout two different rounds into Payveris. As a result, the digital money movement firm navigated a lucrative exit and dispensed over 200% return on investment to the financial institution. He was also instrumental in creating a fintech investment fund with approximately $40 million invested in various fintech credit union service firms.

Since Swanson joined VyStar, it’s expanded to 69 full-service branches in Florida and Georgia and 18 high school branches. The first high school branch opened in 2007. The high school branch program was created to teach young people valuable financial skills, including saving, budgeting, and responsible borrowing. Students involved in the program obtain hands-on experience with essential financial services such as loans, budgets, investments, and credit cards.

VyStar’s Military Roots

VyStar is the 13th-largest credit union in the United States and the second-largest credit union in Florida. It recently announced plans to merge with 121 Financial Credit Union, another Jacksonville-based financial institution. “It’s so fun being first. And to have a CEO, a management team, and a board that wants [it] to be first,” says Swanson.

Military members, both active and retired, veterans, and their families worldwide are invited to join the credit union. And Swanson says its management team is top-notch. “The whole leadership team is aligned and works together on defining strategy together,” says Joel Swanson.

The financial institution has come a long way since it first opened its doors in 1952 at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville. It was named the Jax Navy Federal Credit Union until 2002. Then, after 50 years in business, it changed its name to VyStar.

The original credit union was chartered by 12 founding members with $60. By 1963 it reached $5 million in assets and expanded to Clay County in 1974. In 1982 it installed its first ATMs in branches and now the credit union has a network of more than 20,000 surcharge-free ATMs in the United States. In 1996, Jax Navy reached its first billion dollars. One year later, it launched its website during the infancy of the World Wide Web.

Joel Swanson’s Effective Career

Joel Swanson has 20-plus years of experience in the financial services and technology fields. He’s flourished for over 14 years in the credit union space. He started at VyStar as the chief digital officer before stepping into the chef member experience position. He’s also a founding board member and associate of the Curql Fund’s investment committee.

Before joining the Florida-based financial institution, Joel Swanson worked from 2006 to 2007 at Schroeder Consulting Services as a business systems analyst. He also worked at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, based in Anchorage, for 11 years.

During his time with the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, he held the position of senior vice president of branch administration from 2017 to 2018. Prior to that, from 2012 to 2017, he worked in the role of vice president of electronic services. In addition, from 2011 to 2012, he was the applications supervisor; from 2007 to 2011, he was the senior business systems analyst.

His educational credentials include the Seattle Pacific University School of Business, Government, and Economics from 1999 to 2005. Swanson followed that up at the University of Alaska Anchorage from 2005 to 2008 and a stint at Western CUNA Management School from 2013 to 2015.

He offers this advice to individuals interested in elevating their business. “People need to [understand] that it is OK to be first sometimes, as long as you do it in an understandable way and do your due diligence and make sure that you have a seat at the table.”

Joel Swanson continues, “If you’re not willing to at least be at the forefront of something and be leading the change for what you need for your organization, driving your vision and your road map, then you’re never going to get there.”

By Manali