Author: Jason Wood

Celebrating Those Who Lift Our Communities

Thayne Shaffer
Thayne Schaffer – President/CEO
By Thayne Shaffer, President and Chief Executive Officer

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in an event sponsored jointly by America First and the Las Vegas Raiders at the stunning new Allegiant Stadium. The gathering was held to recognize the finalists in the inaugural Raiders Small Business Showcase Presented by America First Credit Union, which highlights outstanding contributions to our communities by small businesses.

Over the course of the evening, I was able to speak with many impressive small business owners and see the sizable and varied impact they have on their communities. This year’s grand-prize winner was Felicia Parker, the owner of Any Occasion Baskets. Despite abruptly losing a majority of her business when the pandemic struck, Felicia and Any Occasion Baskets decided to utilize the business to buoy others where they could and give back to the community and people they serve. During the interruption, Felicia began providing gift baskets to first responders, healthcare providers, and other front-line workers who were laboring under intense pressure to help others make it through the crisis. I was profoundly touched by her story and thrilled to be a part of honoring her efforts.

As the showcase’s winner, Felicia and her business were awarded a single-season sponsorship with the Raiders worth more than $100,000, which includes signage inside Allegiant Stadium during Raiders home games, professionally produced radio spots, and digital promotions across and the Raiders mobile app. I’m proud of America First’s support of small businesses and appreciate working with a partner as influential as the Las Vegas Raiders to help showcase these small but integral organizations.

October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and I couldn’t let it pass without taking the chance to recognize and celebrate the female entrepreneurs and women-owned and -led businesses that are such a vital part of our economy and communities. At the heart of just about every thriving community in our country, you’ll find at least two essential elements: strong women and strong small businesses. So many of the women who own and operate small businesses share their passion, perspectives, and leadership, and as they do, they elevate everyone and everything around them to greater heights and new opportunities.

When I started working at America First in 1987, only 22% of small businesses in the United States were owned by women. However, in the 34 years since, that number has nearly doubled, and the rate at which women are starting new businesses is twice that of the national average of all businesses being started.

I hope that during this month and beyond, you’ll join me in supporting women’s small businesses. One of the best ways you can do that is by buying the products and services those businesses offer and then sharing your positive experience with others, especially through your favorite social media platforms. And if you own, operate, or are thinking about starting a small business, our expert Business Services team would love to help you take advantage of the many great resources that are available to small and women-owned businesses. My sincerest thanks to all of the women who build and inspire our communities, and to each one of you for being a member of this wonderful union of families, neighbors, coworkers, businesses, and friends.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Thayne Shaffer
Thayne Schaffer – President/CEO
By Thayne Shaffer, President and CEO

Recently, I have been reflecting on my first days at America First Credit Union. From the beginning, I knew it was a special organization, and I quickly recognized that a strong, common thread wove through each meeting, strategy discussion, and decision. That thread was the shared desire and consistent effort to always do what was best for our members. It is one of the aspects I love most about our credit union, and a large part of what has kept me here for 33 years.

Much has changed throughout that time. As we have worked together to provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date financial solutions to our members, I have seen everything from the addition of core services like checking accounts and mortgage lending, to the introduction and continuing enhancement of our many cutting-edge digital services.

When I began here in 1987, we had fewer than 150,000 members. Now, we have almost 1.2 million. Our branch network has grown with our membership, and our 128 and counting locations help us serve communities across four states. America First has been able to adapt in countless ways to best meet the individual needs of our members.

Incredibly, the pandemic of the last year and a half necessitated an even faster increase in our evolution. Like it did to most financial institutions, 2020 challenged us to find new, more flexible, more convenient, and more efficient ways to provide access to the financial resources on which you, your families, and your businesses rely.

Thanks to the forward thinking of our technology group, when the world unexpectedly began to shift, we were ready to serve you remotely through world-class online and mobile services. In addition, over the course of just a few short weeks, we had over 1,500 employees working from home—quadruple the previous number—further safeguarding the health and safety of our staff and members and protecting our ability to serve you.

Now as summer begins, it is a relief to see signs that our neighborhoods, businesses, and communities are becoming free to open back up. After a difficult year, we enthusiastically look forward to working even more closely with you to help you reach your current and future financial goals. The world of personal finance has grown increasingly complex and digital, and we are continually expanding our ability to let you interact with the credit union in the way that best works for you.

Despite the many changes America First has made over the years, one thing remains as it has always been: our sole focus is serving our members and helping to meet your unique financial needs. Our mission statement reminds us every day that our purpose is to provide financial services of a superior quality to you, our members and owners. Your financial well-being is at the heart of everything we do, and our commitment to you will remain constant, whatever the future may bring.

Guest Commentary: Resilience in Weathering the Economic Storms

Dave StaceyBy David Stacey, Senior Vice President – Treasury Services

The recovering economy was abruptly upended last February when fears of an obscure virus infecting a remote part of China blossomed into today’s global COVID-19 pandemic. Contamination spread like a shock wave, halting the longest expansionary economic period on record. The Federal Reserve, U.S. Congress, and White House quickly united in a national nurturing effort, slashing rates, sending checks to most Americans, delivering benefits to those who were furloughed, and providing liquidity to businesses.

Nearly 21 million individuals lost their jobs between March and April, shaking consumer confidence and prompting families to reserve additional resources for the future, which boosted personal savings rates to record highs. Unemployment reached 14.8% in the U.S., although that picture has improved, with more than half of those people being back at work. However, regaining better employment numbers may occur at a slower pace going forward.

Consumer spending, although dramatically weakened, quickly recovered to pre-virus levels with reductions in service-related sectors such as hospitality and travel, but with elevated outlays in more durable areas like home improvements and recreational vehicle purchases.

Business production activity and capital expenditures are gaining steam, though output is still well below previous measurements. Long-term restructuring may boost expenditures, as lessons learned from work-at-home scenarios are evaluated and implemented into future growth strategies.

Timely coronavirus vaccine development has lifted markets and the clouds are beginning to part. Overall economic strength as measured by gross domestic product began advancing late in 2020 and will likely show more impressive vigor as inoculations become widely available and confidence is replenished.

Limited inventories and record-low interest rates, along with systemic changes in labor markets, have created a robust mortgage environment, as home price increases now exceed personal income growth for many.

Auto sales slipped somewhat last year, exposing COVID-19 influences such as preferences for working remotely, driving less, and saving more, but 2021 is expected to show modest improvement as the world starts unlocking and supply chains normalize. We also expect to see expanded spending driven by pent-up demand.

So, how will these trends affect America First and our members?

  • Virus cases continue rising, and vaccinations are slower than we hoped, but the worst of the storm has likely passed
  • Economic stimulus and government spending will provide long-term unemployment support
  • Consumer spending should increase as vaccine doses reach the general public and we’re pushed toward herd immunity
  • Consumer lending levels should gradually move upward
  • Lingering uncertainty will promote savings growth
  • We foresee continued low rates, especially in the short term, as the Fed keeps our economic runway clear of obstructions
  • Mortgage lending will likely remain vibrant until home affordability and higher rates start limiting borrowers’ capacity
  • Business lending should improve

In summary, there will undoubtedly be rain in the forecast, but 2021 should not present us with the ravening storms of 2020. The past 12 months have proven very difficult, but because of the resilient strength and stability of our organization, combined with valiant efforts from dedicated employees, our credit union stands strong and capable to meet your needs.

We look forward to good things in the year ahead.

While Seeming to Have the Least, Some are Offering the Most

John LundBy John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

We have all probably experienced seeing someone in need, but may have felt helpless, lacking the resources or ability to intervene. We also likely know others who find a way to lend comfort, no matter the circumstances. One such person is named Dale and, with his permission, I will share some of his story.

Dale has faced many significant challenges and knows what it’s like to be desperate, out of work, without transportation, lacking hope, and fearing what comes next. He battled substance abuse and addiction for over 20 years. A farm-related accident left him seriously injured, spending 56 days in the hospital and another six months in a wheelchair.

While never technically homeless, Dale is familiar with sleeping in barns, vehicles, and temporary shelters. He gives much of the credit for turning his life around to the fine people in his community and church. They offered support, hosted him for dinner, provided counseling, training, and assistance in gaining employment & housing.

He now resides in the central part of Ogden, Utah. Going about his daily activities, Dale not only noticed but befriended many in the homeless population. He quickly recognized there wasn’t much he could do to address the many issues they faced; however, he still wanted to make a small difference in their lives.

With cold weather on the way, Dale decided to gather warm clothing, reaching out to those who had offered him so much when he was at risk. Using email, texts, social media and word of mouth, there was an outpouring of donated blankets, coats, sweaters, boots, socks, gloves, hats, backpacks, and more. The contributions were amazing and much was accomplished to brighten the day and season for these deserving individuals.

My wife approached Dale to thank him for giving so many of us this service opportunity. She was touched by his response. First, he was humble about organizing the effort, saying he learned firsthand from his friends about thinking of others rather than himself. For those who are homeless, he explained, it’s a struggle to stay warm and clean. They want self-respect like everyone else.

Dale’s compassion was strongly evident to my wife. He said that during the summer, if he ever had a little extra money, he would buy cold drinks and hand them out. The drinks they find on the street are usually warm and not very good, but a cold soda was so much more refreshing and made them feel more normal.

I feel personally blessed to count Dale as a friend and I’m honored to learn from his example. I was reminded to put myself in another’s shoes and recognize the positive influence we can have if we just try. This is a special season, one in which we tend to think more of others. Just as Dale has, I hope we can all be more sensitive to and considerate of those around us, not only during this time of celebration, but throughout the year.

Our mission at America First is to improve the membership’s financial well-being, stay relevant and sensitive to individual needs, and serve you in the manner that best suits your situation. We remain committed to this ideal and look forward to a lifetime relationship with you and your family. Happy holidays and best wishes for a safe and meaningful new year.

During These Uncertain Times, You’ll Find People Helping One Another

John LundBy John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

What a year 2020 has been. The pandemic continues causing a high degree of sadness, illness and death. Unemployment remains high, businesses and the economy are being damaged, many facets of our lives are disrupted, and civil unrest is unfolding across the country we all face additional stress and worry.

If this weren’t enough, we experienced both unseasonably low and high temperatures, gale-force winds, fires, smoke, and other weather-related challenges. It’s certainly shaping up as a time for the record books.

Mr. Rogers, however, would probably have something to say about all the helpers being out there, no matter the circumstances. Fred M. Rogers created and hosted the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001, an incredible 895 episodes. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997, more than 40 honorary degrees, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. He had a unique ability to discuss hardship, personal difficulties, tragedy, and other problematic issues in an open, caring, and educational manner; all this while providing comfort, perspective, and hope.

Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” What a wise woman, offering such simple yet powerful advice. Rather than being overwhelmed with what’s bad in the world, look for the helpers delivering care and support.

Perhaps more importantly, each of us is and can be a helper. There are instances when such assistance is clearly evident and noticeable, but oftentimes it’s more subtle and not seen at all. There are moments when we benefit from helpers, and occasions when we, in turn, offer help. This year has thrown us many curveballs, but we have witnessed the best in one another emerge, no matter the obstacle.

Our mission is to help improve your financial well-being, while simplifying complex and busy lives. The credit union is strong. A dedicated staff and volunteer team works hard to ensure our products and services remain relevant to and are helpful for your changing needs. We appreciate your membership and look forward to a lifetime relationship.

In Challenging Times, We Are Stronger Together

John LundDear Members,

We can probably all agree that this spring and summer have been seasons without comparison, as we work to navigate troubled and uncharted waters. People around the world are anxious for some good news regarding a vaccine or an effective form of COVID-19 treatment. I am confident our scientific and medical community will eventually prevail.

I want you to know how profoundly grateful I am for the America First team of volunteers and employees. Each day, they are adapting to and meeting members’ changing needs. It’s been inspiring to watch and be part of such an amazing group sharing a common purpose. In the end, we will be stronger and more fortunate as we pull together.

We are vital and secure. Despite the challenges posed by the economy and within the communities we serve, America First remains fiscally strong and in a positive position for the future. We’re dedicated to improving your well-being and simplifying your financial life.

We are moving forward. We have undertaken efforts to improve and broaden our digital capabilities, while keeping a commitment to serving you in the manner that best fits your circumstances. If you haven’t tried our mobile and online banking platforms, I encourage you to do so. The systems are robust, user-friendly & convenient, providing complete money-management capability according to your schedule. Our expansive ATM network also offers 24/7 access to funds and many can take deposits. Please visit us here, call 1-800-999-3961, or stop by a local branch to learn more about our industry-leading electronic services.

We greatly appreciate you choosing America First and look forward to a lifetime relationship.


John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer


Guest Commentary: Weathering Financial Storms to Preserve Our Collective Health

Rex Rollo
Rex Rollo – Executive VP / Chief Financial Officer

By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin said, “Some people are weatherwise, but most are otherwise.” Such disciplined attention to everyday events helped Mr. Franklin navigate life during stormy weather, and his sentiment illustrates that planning for the future is a key principle of long-term success. I think Ben would agree the best time to make sure you have a good umbrella is while the sun is still shining.

As we and our members have faced COVID-19’s economic fallout, America First has benefitted from preparations we’ve been making since the Great Recession, working to increase the size and strength of our reserve umbrella to temper future storms.

While the pandemic continues raging, we utilize these reserves to help those caught in the middle of the disturbance. America First has waived fees, offered short-term loans, provided payment-skipping programs and more, giving members additional time to adjust their financial situations.

Many wisely adapted to our digital channels for transactions, deposits and complete account-management needs. This has been effective in preserving staff safety by limiting branch activity and allowing visitors to keep appropriate distance. Taking advantage of government stimulus to build savings, pay loans in advance, and restructure financing has also been a wise fiscal strategy employed by our members, who are reevaluating their spending and budgets to maintain stronger positions.

At this midyear point, after enduring a full quarter of COVID-19, we are doing everything possible to build trust, just as we endeavored to do in the recession a decade ago. Earnings will naturally fall in the months ahead, as we add capital to ensure ongoing security. We are forging ahead, with yearly growth goals being met or exceeded. Prudent planning has dictated that we slow project expenditures, adjust revenue outlooks, and take cost-cutting measures. Indicators show we are seeing positive results and we’re committed to continuing these efforts.

Because of our preparation and diligence, we will weather this storm in good fashion. I believe Citizen Franklin would consider our guiding motto of people helping people to be “weatherwise” rather than “otherwise.”

America the Beautiful

John LundBy John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

I think it is safe to say this has not been the year any of us expected. With everything that has happened, it feels like we have had a decade’s worth of newsworthy and challenging events packed into just the last six months. Almost overnight the threat of COVID-19 transformed our routines, communities, businesses & economy, and permeated so many aspects of our lives. Concepts like social distancing, being apart together, flattening the curve, and working from home have entered our common lexicon. Civil unrest on a scale we have not seen in decades has been at the front and center of public discourse. Conversations about our shared hopes, concerns, and what freedom means to each one of us are taking place in the U.S. Capitol, our statehouses, on social media, at public gatherings, and around countless dinner tables.

Still, despite the challenges we are facing, I am optimistic about our future. Because if there is one thing our shared history has proven again and again, it is that Americans can rise together to meet any challenge, face any trial, and overcome any obstacle. We are not a perfect nation and we are relatively young by the world’s standards. But we are a nation of incredible people, innovative thinkers, and ennobling ideals. We cherish our independence and honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to safeguard it. We love our wild spaces and carry a bit of that wild, untamable spirit with us. We disagree, debate, and opine, but when life’s storms strike, we show up in droves to repair, rebuild, lift, and love. We are the product of the beautiful and ever-evolving dream of hundreds of millions, and I know of no place on earth where such a diverse collection of people is more committed to becoming better and working together to build a society in which everyone has the opportunities, resources, and encouragement they need to make the most of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Throughout almost 250 years together, we Americans have defined ourselves by the way we improve, overcome, and ultimately become stronger than we were before.

As members of America First, our unity of purpose is also deep and enduring. And as a credit union, we are driven by our passion for serving our members, and by our commitment to helping each one of them to improve their financial well-being and to withstand whatever difficult times life brings.

Thank you for your membership and loyalty. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with each of you.

In Times of Need, Your Credit Union Stands Ready to Serve and Support

John LundBy John B. Lund, President/Chief Executive Officer

Dear Valued Members,

During the past several weeks, we have all experienced considerable anxiety and made significant adjustments to how we interact with one another and conduct business. We’ve experienced fear, not just of potential illness, but that of facing significant hardships such as job loss, the inability to establish normal routines, dealing with children out of school, and other uncertainties. Throughout, I have certainly learned to more fully appreciate life and the good things we cherish most.

On March 16, America First quietly passed our 81st birthday. Over the decades, this organization has confronted innumerable challenges. However, it is clear that such difficulties do not define us, nor have they weakened our resolve. Instead, again and again, we choose to write our own story: We work together to surpass every obstacle, growing stronger all the while.

In trying times, we give each other and our shared communities time, means, and support. When disaster strikes, we rebuild damaged homes, businesses, and lives. We reach out to those in need at every opportunity. Since 1939, the credit union has genuinely cared for our fellow members, lifted and rooted each other on, and celebrated our success. We confront these moments as a united front, and I am profoundly comforted and encouraged to know that this will be no different; it is who we are.

America First is committed to protecting our common physical and financial well-being. The health of the membership and our employee team is the credit union’s number-one priority. Some necessary operational adjustments may cause inconvenience, but we’re grateful for your patience and understanding as efforts continue to reduce the ramifications of the coronavirus and related threats. We adjusted the hours and availability of some branches, and will be making ongoing changes as we monitor and assess current circumstances. An updated list is here. Please check the website regularly to see if your branch has been or will be affected. We encourage managing your money using online & mobile banking, with mobile deposit services, at our ATMs, or by calling 1-800-999-3961 for telephone banking and the contact centers.

If you are having financial difficulties, please get in touch immediately. Plans are in place to help ease the burden and strain of this crisis. We will do everything possible to minimize any lasting effects on you, your family, and your business.

America First is safe and sound. The credit union is well-capitalized, with sufficient reserves to weather turbulent economic cycles and impediments as they materialize. We are robust, vibrant, and capable of helping you achieve current and long-term goals. We appreciate your trust, support, and look forward to a lifetime relationship.


Guest Commentary: Harnessing the Benefits of Economic Growth

Glen OlpenBy Glen Olpin, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist

The nation’s ongoing fiscal recovery has become the longest-running period of American economic growth on record. January was the 127th month of expansion since the Great Recession concluded, far surpassing the previous mark. However, it is also notable that the pace of improvement is the slowest in history.

Consumers are leading the way, as our collective confidence is at an all-time high; many are comfortable with increasing their spending and debt levels. Personal income is up from last year, while inflation risk and U.S. unemployment remain low. Utah and Idaho enjoy robust employment, while the jobless rates in Nevada and Arizona inched only slightly higher.

Home prices across the country continue on an upward trajectory, but it is not quite as rapid. For the first time in many years, personal incomes are moderately outpacing housing costs. Western states are seeing home prices surge at a rate higher than the national average.

Auto sales slowed only modestly in 2019, with on-and-off downturns projected to extend into 2020. Overall, though, sales are expected to remain robust. Business production and capital expenditures are decreasing, while positive news regarding the resolution of trade disagreements could boost the economy and investment markets.

Overall U.S. economic strength, as measured by real gross domestic product, has been moderating. The yield curve, inverted for a short period during late summer last year, added to worries about future growth. We can expect election-year politics to generate further concerns as well.

What does this mean for America First in 2020?

  • Our credit union is, without question, financially strong and well capitalized
  • Economic slowdowns are uncomfortable, but the durability of our local economies can guard against negative national trends
  • As economic volatility persists, expect higher unemployment
  • Savings should grow, as members improve personal financial balance sheets
  • Competitive consumer borrowing will be available
  • Expect lower rates, especially in the short-term
  • Improved affordability, along with lower mortgage rates, will provide home-buying & refinancing opportunities

On balance, 2019 proved positive for the credit union and our valued members. Although some weakening signals appear in the forecast, we expect to manage any economic fluctuations and continue delivering the benefits you’ve earned.

During my career, I was privileged to witness and personally participate in the tremendous growth and success of America First, founded in 1939 on the principles of service, sharing resources, and members working alongside one another to achieve financial health. Going forward into the next 80 years, we remain committed to these same ideals, providing high-quality, competitive, convenient, safe and professional services to those who choose membership in our credit union.

Editor’s note: Glen retired in January 2020 after 44 years of service to America First Credit Union members.