President’s Message

Guest Commentary: Harnessing the Benefits of Economic Growth

By 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.

The Principles that Lead to Longevity

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

My maternal grandmother lived to be 102, having been born in 1898 and passing away in 2000.  Reaching the age of over a century is quite an accomplishment and demonstration in perseverance. Perhaps what interests me most about her amazing life, however, is that she experienced firsthand the entire 1900s.

It’s extraordinary to think of the world’s development during her lifetime. She was there for the first automobiles, airplanes, radios, televisions and more. She ultimately witnessed space travel and men landing on the moon. She experienced years when tremendous advances in medicine were made, when cures for terrible diseases were found, and when technological innovations—including the internet—were realized.

On one occasion, I asked my grandmother what she felt may have attributed to her longevity. Without hesitation, she responded, “If you need to shed a tear, shed it…and then get on with life and don’t worry about things you can’t control.”

She did not have an easy time, losing her husband at a young age and going through tremendous economic hardships. She battled breast cancer and bravely faced numerous personal and family challenges.

When I think of her attitude and wisdom, I am truly grateful for her legacy and am encouraged about the future as we move forward in a new decade. It is a time when many of us make resolutions and commitments for the months to come. As I set my own goals for 2020, I will strive always to take my grandmother’s advice to heart.

The past year proved to be one of strength and solid performance for the credit union. We celebrated our 80th anniversary and achieved the significant milestone of surpassing one million members. We are grateful for your business, loyalty, and remain dedicated to providing each of you with the personal attention you deserve, as well as the finest products & services you need.

Our mission is to help simplify and improve the financial portion of your life, minimize stress, and strengthen a lasting partnership that benefits you and your family.

Honoring Long-Standing Traditions and Building the New

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

It’s hard to believe 2019 is quickly coming to an end and the holidays are upon us. I do enjoy the season—all the bright lights, beautiful sights, sounds, excitement and activities. Even with the hustle and bustle, there is a peace about this time of year. For me, it’s always an opportunity for reflection and appreciation.

Part of what makes the season so special are family traditions, some old and others having been recently established. A venerable tradition dear to me is stringing popcorn and cranberries with a needle and thread to make a garland for our Christmas tree.

My mother began this practice when she was a child and it continued throughout  my youth. My wife and I carried it forward with our family. For Mom, it was probably a good way to beautify the tree on a very small budget. For me, while it certainly adds charm, the process of creating these beautiful chains of red and white brings back cherished memories of Christmases past with family, friends, and loved ones.

My wife and I instituted a newer tradition where, while traveling, we collect an ornament from various parts of the country and world we have the opportunity to visit. Over time, these unique pieces have added up and are now very special to us. As we decorate the tree every year, each ornament prompts fond memories and gratitude for vacations, trips, and experiences we’ve had with special people.

Your credit union has held true to long-standing traditions such as financial strength, trust, and integrity. We’re dedicated to sustaining an outstanding service culture, continuing our passion for delivering relevant products and services of true value, and focusing on developing lifelong relationships with each member.

A more recently established tradition is our attention on continually expanding and improving our role as your premier provider of electronic services. In today’s fast-paced world, convenience & speed are an important priority, and we designed our award-winning mobile and digital platforms to ensure we’re available how, when, and where you need us.

Our commitment is to embrace and build upon these traditions, and to develop new ones as the times and seasons require. We appreciate your loyalty to and trust in America First as your  financial partner.

On behalf of the credit union’s employees and volunteers, it’s my privilege to offer our sincere wishes for a wonderful, safe, enjoyable, and peaceful holiday.

A Time of Gratitude & Giving

John B Lund – President
By John B. Lund, President/Chief Executive Officer

Thanksgiving and Veterans Day fall in November, the same month my father was born. His passing was 10 years ago, and I miss and think of him often. As his birthdate approaches each year, however, I gain a greater awareness of Dad’s life and the example he set. He was fun-loving, with a terrific sense of humor, and always had a positive attitude.

What first comes to mind about my dad, though, is how hard he worked—no matter how small the task or how big the job was, it had to be done right, having learned this strong work ethic at such an early age. I remember him telling me about laboring from dawn to dusk during summers at his grandmother’s farm in Brigham City, Utah.

On Christmas Eve in 1941, when Dad was only 14, my grandfather died. This was certainly a time of considerable anxiety for the family; not only had their father and husband suffered an untimely death, Pearl Harbor had been attacked earlier that same month. These perilous events and sense of uncertainty prompted my dad to assume additional work and household responsibilities. My sweet grandmother never remarried and raised a large family on her own.

As a young boy, my father and I made weekly visits to my grandmother’s home to mow the lawn and assist with a host of other projects. In addition to Dad’s full-time job and all the service he contributed to relatives and neighbors, he often had multiple part-time jobs to provide for our family.

I truly have much for which I am thankful, including the many valuable life lessons taught by my dad. This is a special season, and I hope we can pause to look for the good in life, the good in each other, and appreciate those who have gone before us to protect our freedom and way of life.

We’re grateful to each of you for choosing and remaining loyal to America First Credit Union.  Our mission is to improve your financial well-being and we take this responsibility seriously. As a team of dedicated staff and volunteers, we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We look forward to a lifetime relationship.

Prevention is Essential to Deal with Identity Theft and Fraud

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

Data breaches and fraud are, unfortunately, becoming far too commonplace. In fact, identity theft reportedly occurs every two seconds. Capital One recently suffered a compromise that affected over 100 million people. Numerous large-scale retailers, as well as sophisticated technology companies, have fallen victim to hackers and online criminals. Indeed, most of us have felt the impact of a breach or identity theft in one form or another.

It’s important we all take steps to protect our information and identity. To follow are some simple suggestions for preventing fraud:

  1. Don’t offer sensitive info, including your Social Security number, to an unknown person or business. Oftentimes fraud perpetrators will claim to represent merchants, government agencies, or financial institutions. If you’re suspicious, hang up or log off. And remember, America First Credit Union will never contact you and ask for a PIN or password.
  2. Never click email hyperlinks or enter personal data—unless you sent the initial message or you’re confident about the company or individual with whom you’re doing business. Scammers are experts at making these communications appear legitimate. Delete anything that raises red flags.
  3. Refuse requests to wire strangers money. Although sometimes intriguing and convincing, such a story is probably a hoax.
  4. Create complex passwords, avoiding common names and sequential numbers. Make them at least eight characters long, mixing lower & uppercase letters, numbers, and special punctuation marks. Consider a program such as RoboForm, LastPass or SplashID to track different unique passwords, and use two-factor authentication when it’s offered.
  5. Install antivirus and spyware protection on your devices, then enable the auto-updating features.
  6. Resist the urge to download software from pop-up windows.
  7. Regularly monitor your statements and account activity. Report potentially fraudulent charges immediately.
  8. Use Card Guard® mobile security. This app gives you complete control of how, when & where your Visa® credit and debit cards are used.
  9. Identity theft recovery services are a free benefit for members with America First Visa credit cards. You’ll gain additional peace of mind, as the coverage applies to all accounts held by you and your dependents still living at home. This also provides significant savings, as comparable recovery services are $25 to $50 per month if purchased from other sources.

Remaining vigilant in monitoring your finances, safeguarding your resources, and selecting trusted partners is essential in achieving financial health. We’re proud you’ve chosen America First. We appreciate the opportunity to serve and look forward to a lifelong relationship.

Guest Commentary: The New Online and Mobile Banking Experience

Rich Syme – Chief Growth & Digital Transformation Officer

By Rich Syme, Executive Vice President—Digital & Contact Center Delivery, Product Management

It’s a bit cliché, but to say technology evolves quickly might be the understatement of the century. In my role overseeing our digital services, I can see this transformation up close. It’s incredible—and, honestly, a little overwhelming—just how rapidly change comes to the ways in which we engage with the world and each other. Of special importance to me is the effect such advancement has on day-to-day money management.

A central goal is empowering America First members, providing them with the ability to handle their finances in the manner they find most beneficial, meaningful, and convenient. That’s why we’re excited about launching new online & mobile banking upgrades. These enhancements—and those on the way—are meant to make your experience better, easier, and more personal.

Online banking features a streamlined design and increased browser responsiveness, including when you’re using a mobile device—it’s complete functionality, even on the go. You can add two-step authentication to strengthen security, while your histories will show balances after pending transactions clear. Plus, a new widget brings up a complete picture of where your money is going and how your budget stands. The platform also allows us to seamlessly integrate future benefits & advantages, so we’ll be sure to let you know as we roll them out.

With our new mobile banking app, it’s simple to maintain your financial well-being, 24/7. We designed it with an improved user-friendly interface, as well as additional customizable options. There are biometric logins for devices with that function, you’ll be able to deposit checks without going to a branch, and you can include accounts from other financial institutions in budget and spending overviews.

Of course, mobile banking delivers the protection of Card Guard, truly an amazing app for iOS and Android. As someone who’s spent considerable time singing its praises, my pitch boils down to this: Card Guard® allows members to control when, where, and how Visa® debit and credit cards are used.

It’s an incredibly powerful tool, letting you turn cards on and off in real time. If you lose a card, or just want the peace of mind that comes from knowing your Visa can’t be used until you’re ready for it, switch it off with a single tap. You can also set transaction limits based on amount, geographic location, and merchant or transaction type. It even lets you disable cards automatically when they’re not close to your mobile device. When Card Guard is installed, you’ll receive alerts about when, where, and for how much your card was used. It also informs you of declined transactions due to suspicious activity. In essence, Card Guard is security you control.

Online & mobile banking from America First can help you make the most of every moment and every dollar. These upgrades are the result of untold hours of thought and dedication, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of them. I’m privileged to witness firsthand the passion and commitment our digital services team has for finding, creating, and developing innovative ways for you to pursue your unique financial dreams, in the way that best fits your life and lifestyle.

Guest Commentary: Measured Growth & Shared Strength Drive America First

Rex Rollo – Executive VP / Chief Financial Officer
By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

Through July, America First achieved double-digit growth in both assets and deposits, generating earnings that elevated the credit union’s net worth to exceed 150% of well-capitalized regulatory requirements.

In total, assets of more than $11 billion make us Utah’s largest credit union and the ninth most substantial in the nation, with 128 branches in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho. We at America First are privileged to have increased liquidity and an improved efficiency ratio.

Such figures for the first six months of 2019 are indeed notable for any financial institution. What sets us apart, however, is that we achieved these benchmarks while expanding our market presence and broadening our brand recognition, delivering the ability to handle millions of transactions through digital channels. These positive and ongoing results clearly indicate the strength and long-term success of America First Credit Union.

Behind the statistics, ratios & amounts, however, our greatest measurement of success is the growing number of people who join America First every day—membership now stands at over one million. The philosophy of people helping people drives us to perform at the highest level, supporting the America First mission statement: “…our chief concern is the financial well-being of our members.” In like fashion, as members develop financial health by using more products and services, the organization’s collective well-being is enhanced. This is as true today as it was 80 years ago, when 59 individuals founded the credit union we now enjoy.

In almost all respects, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Our lives are better because of their efforts and, through their hard-fought gains, we enjoy the view from higher ground. In much the same way, America First always strives to be in the best possible position to help members. Past, present and future, those who have united and will unite to benefit each other fulfills the promise on which we stand. It is with gratitude that we thank you for propelling America First forward, creating strong shoulders for others.

For Much, We Are Indeed Grateful

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the World War II D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France. This historic event has always been of deep personal interest. As a young boy, I remember my father telling me about his brother, who at the age of 20 lost his life during the siege at Omaha Beach. I clearly sensed how much he missed his big brother, who was described as handy, someone who loved working on his cherished car, and always a joy to be around.

Back then, I knew little about wars or the concerns of the world, but I could tell my father wanted me to understand the precious nature of the United States and that the loss of his dearly loved brother wasn’t in vain. Dad later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict and was very proud of fulfilling his duty to country.

In my July 2014 report, I wrote in some detail about D-Day, my uncle’s service and his ultimate sacrifice. Afterward, at the top of my bucket list was a visit to Normandy and the chance to gain a greater appreciation for what Uncle Winton and many thousands of veterans accomplished, not just for America, but for the world. The following summer, I was fortunate enough to see that wish come true when my wife and I, along with some close friends, journeyed to France. During our trip, I collected a bottle of sand from Normandy Beach. It now sits on a shelf at home and serves as a small but ongoing reminder of freedom’s true cost.

On the 4th of July, we as a country gather to celebrate our independence, the birth of our great nation, and the blessings we enjoy. Certainly, we have always faced and will always confront challenges and difficulties, but there is no other nation on earth that provides such opportunity. These patriotic remembrances are undertaken in the presence of the nation’s flag, which symbolizes the ideals for which every veteran fought, in the great wars of the past and in today’s conflicts. This is something I feel we can’t afford to forget and I hope that during our holiday activities, we will all pause to remember and give thanks to those who preserve our freedom.

In 2019, we’re also celebrating the 80th anniversary of America First. Much like the nation, our credit union was founded on principles of commitment, hard work, self-reliance and service. I’m proud of our legacy and that our mission continues to be delivering the products, services and information our members need to achieve financial well-being. On behalf of the volunteers and staff, it’s my privilege to express our appreciation for your membership and loyalty. We look forward to a lifelong relationship.

Our Real Heroes

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

Over many years, I’ve been privileged to meet and chat with famous athletes and sporting icons, often referred to as cultural heroes. Such individuals include professional basketball players, members of the PGA Tour golf elite, soccer stars, gymnasts, even a few music & entertainment luminaries. The talent with which these folks are blessed and what they accomplish in their endeavors is certainly impressive and appreciated by hundreds of thousands; they inspire and provide us with thrilling memories.

However, as I think further about the concept of heroes and how it applies to the real people surrounding us, the exemplary America First staff comes to mind. Our team strives diligently to help members fulfill their dreams, develop & maintain financial well-being, alleviate stressful circumstances, and simplify their lives. I will share three quick examples.

A gentleman recently visited a local branch with his autistic grandson, whom he hoped to assist in finding a job at Deseret Industries. The immediate problem was that the grandson did not have any government-issued identification, which is necessary for both employment and receiving pay to be deposited at a financial institution. The grandfather was indeed worried and frustrated but, long story short, our branch manager worked directly with this member and found a solution for getting his grandson ID and an account. I was blessed to get a wonderful letter that expressed sincere appreciation for our manager and her willingness to go above and beyond in helping this young man secure his first identification card, savings account and, I’m happy to report, job—he was all smiles when his first check arrived!

I also learned of another terrific branch leader who spent countless hours assisting a single mother research and meet the requirements to qualify for her very first mortgage. The happiness and joy exhibited by this mother in having a home of her own to raise this child was evident in her thankful note.

Lastly, I was in a restaurant in the Salt Lake airport, having a bite to eat because my flight was delayed. My server immediately noticed the America First logo on my shirt and exclaimed, “You saved my life!” I had never met her, let alone saved her life. Yet this kind woman explained that she was referred to our credit union by a friend and we found a way to consolidate her bills so that she was able to save hundreds each month, putting some money away for her son’s college education.

These are simple, powerful, potentially life-changing experiences our credit union was able to facilitate—all by helping each America First member, every single day. The people who work here are the real heroes in my eyes and in the sight of those they serve. We are truly grateful for your membership, loyalty and stories. We look forward to a lifetime relationship.

America First Celebrates Eight Decades of Excellence in Credit Union Service

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

This year, America First held our Annual Meeting one month after the 80th anniversary of our founding—Fort Douglas Civilian Employees Credit Union was chartered on March 16, 1939.

Although our origins are humble, the 59 members who formed this cooperative had one simple yet powerful objective: helping each other improve their collective and individual financial well-being. For 80 years, America First has endeavored to build on this same focus, bringing the same passion for service and a commitment to provide the highest-quality products & services, in the most professional manner.

One of our most distinguishing characteristics is the volunteer Board of Directors who approve the strategy and focus of the organization. America First has nine outstanding board members who give tremendously of their time and talents, without compensation, to benefit the credit union. They are truly dedicated to improving the financial health of every member and we are fortunate to have them on our team.

At the Tuesday, April 16 Annual Meeting in Ogden, Utah, three highly qualified directors were approved to serve three-year terms: Barney B. Chapman, Kenlon W. Reeve and Michael W. Roden. Acting Board Nominations/Elections Committee Chair Linda Carver conducted the proceedings. The board subsequently voted on internal leadership roles, with Linda Carver serving as chair, Kenlon Reeve as vice chair, and John Spease as secretary. Our most sincere thanks are extended to Jim Wendler for his dedicated leadership and service as board chairman the last four years.

Our Loan Review and Supervisory Committees are also comprised of volunteers, all of whom are dedicated to delivering much-needed service & expertise. The Loan Review Committee—unique not only among financial institutions, but among credit unions—is an independent appeals avenue for members initially denied financing. The Supervisory Committee works with internal and external auditors to ensure fiscal and regulatory safety & soundness.

During his chairman’s message at the Annual Meeting, Mr. Wendler noted that the spirit, values and principles of integrity that drove the formation of America First have not changed in 80 years, nor would they change for generations of members to come. “This credit union remains a shining example of how people of diverse backgrounds but sharing a common purpose can form and operate an institution that serves their financial interests and plays a vital role in the communities in which it’s invested,” he said.

Indeed, we at America First strive each day to dedicate ourselves to uppermost standards, forward-thinking strategies, prudent financial management, and excellence in service. It’s therefore an honor to report that our credit union is strong, vibrant and well-positioned for the future. My utmost appreciation is offered to you, our valued members. We pledge our best efforts to maintain your trust in establishing a lifelong relationship.