After 9 Years, Larry Biernacki Leaves Bigger Arkansas Federal Credit Union

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Jun. 30, 2014 12:00 am  

Walter L. Biernacki Jr. — Larry to his friends — is a voracious reader, especially of business and management books, and his conversation is peppered with phrases from his favorite, Jim Collins’ 2001 classic “Good to Great.”

Arkansas Federal Credit Union was a good organization with $405 million in assets when Biernacki arrived nine years ago this month, having been well and carefully managed into its position as largest credit union in the state by Hank Klein.

But Biernacki came from a much larger credit union, San Antonio FCU, and had some BHAGs — Collins’ acronym for Big Harry Audacious Goals: to double AFCU’s assets in five years and triple them in 10.

Actually, Biernacki knew even then that he wouldn’t be around in 2015, and so did the directors of AFCU.

“They knew I was going to retire at 62 when they hired me,” he said, and that happened in April. Aug. 1 will be his last day on the job, and AFCU’s board of directors has not yet announced a successor.

(Get the list of the largest credit unions in Arkansas, available as either a PDF or spreadsheet.)

AFCU did meet that first BHAG, reaching $806 million in assets in the first quarter of 2010. But the third $400 million has been slow to materialize, with assets bouncing above and below the billion-dollar mark in recent months.

At the end of March, total assets were officially $966.3 million; Biernacki’s projecting $1.04 billion at the end of 2014. By next summer — 10 years after his arrival — AFCU is likely to have 2.5 times the assets he inherited from Klein.

“The economy didn’t help us,” Biernacki said during a recent interview at the Jacksonville office that he had already begun cleaning out. “But no excuses.”

While a lot of commercial bankers have complained about sluggish loan demand, Biernacki seemed to be pooh-poohing that idea.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “And I have the balance sheet to prove it.”

Point-of-sale lending is a specialty that Biernacki brought with him from his days with larger credit unions, and being able to finance members when they are buying big-ticket items like vehicles and boats has become about 35 percent of AFCU’s lending. “But direct lending is through the roof, too,” he said.



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