We wrote a Business North Carolina feature story last year on Jim Blaine, who has led the State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina since 1979, helping build the nation’s second-largest credit union with $33 billion in assets. On Monday, Blaine said he is retiring and ready to hand off the reins to a successor, probably early next year.
“They say 60 is the new 40, but 80 ain’t the new 50,” says Blaine, who is 66. While SECU has hired a search firm and may launch a national search for a new CEO, he says there are several good internal candidates. “We’ve had three or four senior managers make presentations to our board over the past year. We’ve been working on succession for the past 18 months.”
Blaine, who makes about $850,000 annually, thinks he’s leaving a thriving institution. “Things are in good order, and we’re growing like crazy.” He expects a new CEO to be hired before the credit union’s fiscal year ends on June 30.
The credit union had about $300 million in assets when Blaine took charge 37 years ago. It now has more than 2 million members and 5,800 employees with offices in each of the North Carolina’s 100 counties. One of its most unusual policies is charging the same interest rates to all borrowers. Most lenders other credit unions give preferred rates to borrowers with stronger financial histories. Charge-offs for bad loans have been a fraction of industry averages, even during recessions.
For years, Blaine was best known for his feuds with former N.C. Bankers Association President Thad Woodard over the issue of tax advantages for credit unions, particularly as rules changed, making it much easier to qualify for membership. Tax policy has not changed, while bank executives still fume over the issue.
Our story noted that while Blaine is little known because of his low profile, experts credit his leadership at SECU among the most remarkable stories in North Carolina finance over recent decades. Unlike the state’s famous banking titans, SECU grew without making any acquisitions.
Blaine’s outspoken and humorous nature is most evident in his blog, which skewers industry regulators over practices that he views as unfair to credit union members.