CEO Spotlight: Sherod Halliburton, Financial Access FCU
Financial Access FCU
During his five years on the board of directors Sherod Halliburton worked to transition Financial Access Federal Credit Union (formerly known as Manatee Federal Credit Union) from only serving employees of Tropicana Products to the at-large community. Due to his strong community ties and business acumen Halliburton was recruited to join the staff. At the time, he was executive director of a government redevelopment agency in the same low-income neighborhood in Bradenton, Florida, where the credit union is housed.
Having never worked in a financial institution but equipped with years of credit and business development experience, he started as executive vice president. He was given one year to learn the business and elevate to president or be released.
“I was so enamored with the opportunity to impact lives though financial services that I decided to bet on me.”
After helping to craft the application while on the board, Financial Access was certified as a CDFI on his second day on the job.
“Given the importance of that designation, I immediately felt like this was my destiny,” Halliburton recalls. He has now been president for over eight years.
Representing the community he serves
Living within the Financial Access community, Halliburton—who regularly walks to work—says it’s important the credit union’s members see themselves reflected in the demographic makeup of the staff.
“I want them to walk in the door and see someone they can relate to,” Halliburton says. “Older, male, person of color, Latino, whatever it may be, our institution needs to reflect our society. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or like this is a place where “that” group goes. Everyone should feel wanted and respected.”
Halliburton explains that, as one of limited number of African American men running a financial institution, he accepts the great responsibility accompanying that honor.
“I want to show everyone that people of color are competent and can do a quality job—I work hard to reflect that,” he says. “I hope to one day be seen as a CEO of a financial institution who happens to be Black instead of a Black CEO running a financial institution.”
A movement toward racial equity and sustainability
Financial Access continuously commits resources to be more present in the financial lives of their members in the active pursuit of racial equity, growth and sustainability.
They recently trademarked CreditConnectNow—a one-stop financial improvement resource center.
“Our goal is to be the impetus to an improved quality of life by educating our members on strategies and connecting them to the products needed to grow their financial capacity,” Halliburton says.
He explains that wealth creation and transference in America is predominantly done through home ownership. The credit union wants to increase financial literacy, improve credit scores, and lower the costs needed to acquire and own a home.
“We want to help the Black community achieve the American dream—to grow financially and have the opportunity to create wealth and stability for their families,” he says. “We want to be active participants in that journey.”
Halliburton also says the credit union is sometimes the only place people of color feel comfortable doing business because of challenges they’ve experienced with other financial institutions due to race.
“We have a very clear policy about treating all members with respect and dignity,” he explains. “If people are or are not approved for something it’s because of their own merit. I don’t think there’s any better feeling than that. Even if the answer is ‘not now,’ it’s based on merit—not color. That’s important to people of color.”
Recreating the credit union image
Halliburton says a challenge in being a small financial institution in a market dominated by large ones is the continuous perception that you are “less than.”
“We may be small, but we are innovative and creative,” he says. “Being recognized and respected for that is a challenge. They see where you’re located and who you serve and draw conclusions.”
To change the narrative, Halliburton is active in the community, present in community causes, and forms partnerships that help show and grow the credit union’s value.
These individual efforts, Halliburton says, help recreate the image of who he is and who the credit union is—and repositioned them in the marketplace.
“We’ve gone from a somewhat negative perception—being smaller and serving people with challenges—to now being viewed as a vital part of the economic infrastructure.”
Positioned for a promising future
Understandably, the global pandemic created challenges for Financial Access and the community. They remained faithful to helping members by waiving fees, allowing skipped payments, and other options to improve financial stability during uncertain times. Soon, the credit union began seeing deposits increase again as members got back on their feet.
Halliburton views the pandemic as a disruptive event that brought challenges, but also opportunities to improve the way they do business.
Thanks to two Technical Assistance grants and Rapid Response Program funding, Financial Access invested in state-of-the-art fintech products. This gives members better online banking options, access to paychecks two days earlier, and the ability to improve their banking experience.
The credit union will rely heavily on this upgraded technology to reach their goal of doubling membership in three years.
“It’s aggressive, but I’m confident,” Halliburton says. “I’m confident because of the support we have—our board, community partners, exceptional staff. Success in this arena doesn’t happen alone and I have the best support around me.”
While accomplishing these goals is important to Halliburton’s legacy, he recognizes that the credit union’s role goes beyond offering financial services.
“We’re here to transform lives. I want that to be the enduring message even when I’m gone. That people are more than their credit scores.”
Meet Financial Access member Mackie Allen
Mackie Allen is the exact type of person Halliburton sees as more than a credit score. The two met shortly after Allen was released from a 26-year incarceration. Halliburton helped Allen get a job at his redevelopment agency over a decade ago and continues to be an important presence in his life.
“It’s just not something you see—a person of that professional status giving that kind of time to someone who had been incarcerated for so long,” Allen recalls. “He treated me just like he treats someone who hasn’t been incarcerated. I didn’t know what to do when I got back to society. Working with him made the difference.”
Over the years Halliburton has played a role in Allen starting his own carpet cleaning business, purchasing a home and becoming a certified life coach. But what really developed over this time was a true friendship.
“From the time I met him he has never been anything other than a true and helpful individual—in any situation that I go to him about,” Allen explains.
And Allen says that it’s not just him—anyone at the credit union would speak about Halliburton with as much admiration and enthusiasm.
“He makes sure that, when you’re a member, they open all doors for you. They treat you like family. Whatever your goals are, at the end of the day you will have accomplished them. You’re not just a customer—you really are valued.”