President’s Message

Giving Thanks In the Most Difficult of Times

A fellow America First team member recently shared with me a letter written by his great-grandfather in 1918. The correspondence was sent from one brother here at home to another who served in the military during World War I. The brutal and bloody conflict, more than four years long, resulted in some 22 million deaths.

That same year, a terrible influenza virus gripped the planet, lasting over two years and infecting 500 million people—one-third of the world’s population—with 50 million dying from the disease. It’s nearly unthinkable that people would have to face both a world war and a worldwide pandemic.

I felt impressed to share a few quotes from this letter:

‘eight down and no help…’ This refers to all seven of his children and wife having the illness, his wife being sick for 28 days. Fortunately, they all recovered.

‘everybody…scared to death…went it alone’

 ‘I guess folks have told you about all the ones [who] have died…’

‘fought awful hard to live…’

‘Out of work…hoping I can go back’

Some other terms caught my eye: quarantine, careful, hope, happy now.

The letter was truly enlightening, helping me appreciate that generation to an even greater degree. It’s hard to imagine being in quarantine, out of work, your entire family ill, and having little if any help.

Some 100 years later, we are dealing with another pandemic and, while we are not at war, there is an abundance of violence, civil unrest, and uncertainty. Today, we share similar worries, fears, emotions, and challenges. Fortunately, for the most part, we don’t have to go it alone. Communication, health care, and other services are more readily available. Just like this wonderful great-grandfather, we must continue our vigilance, which will bring us hope and the ability to achieve a sense of happiness. I believe a key to being happy is thankfulness.

During November, we celebrate Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving. Even amid our difficulties, we do have much for which to be grateful. I am truly thankful for the country’s veterans and all who protect our freedoms and values; I’m grateful for those who are working so hard to put an end to the pandemic. I’m appreciative of our members and their loyalty to America First. We pledge to continue providing relevant financial help and solutions, no matter the circumstances. We’re here to help, and we look forward to a lifetime relationship with you and your family.

All the best to each of you,

 

 

President & Chief Executive Officer

 

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

By 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

Dear 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.

Sincerely,

John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

 

Guest Commentary: Weathering Financial Storms to Preserve Our Collective Health

Rex Rollo – Executive VP / Chief Financial Officer

By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

In the mid-17th 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

By 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.

An Unyielding Dedication to Serving and Improving Your Financial Health

Dear Members,

On behalf of the America First staff and volunteer team, I am honored to deliver an accounting of your credit union’s achievements in 2019. We greatly appreciate the support, loyalty, and trust of our membership. As an organization, we endeavor daily to ensure relevant and affordable financial services are provided in a convenient, professional, and personal manner.

We celebrated our 80th anniversary on March 16, 2019 and closed the year as the nation’s 9th most substantial credit union in terms of assets; America First ranked 5th in number of members. I often wonder what the 59 founders would think of our progression and success. Although much has changed since 1939, one constant, core purpose remains: improving the members’ financial well-being.

By every measurement, it was an outstanding 12 months. More importantly, our commitment to America First’s long-term health and vitality is strongly evident. With this in mind, we continue focusing on three pillars forming the nucleus of our strategy, budget, and operation: 1. Lifetime member relationships, 2. Financial strength & integrity, and 3. Strategic, balanced growth.

Lifetime Relationships

Our mission is to serve the membership’s needs, help simplify lives, and enhance financial wellness. Indicators suggest we’re doing a good job—our loyalty, retention, product utilization, and net promoter benchmarks are among the best in the U.S. This positive differentiation of products, designed according to each life stage, is essential to develop and maintain productive, long-term relationships. Among our priorities are:

Financial Literacy

  • Free financial seminars & training opportunities
  • Free financial counseling services
  • Financial literacy instruction at local schools
  • Free credit scores and programs to assist members who are rebuilding
  • Interactive web-based learning tools
  • Social media tips, updates, and financial education

Award-Winning 24/7 Digital and Electronic Services

  • Comprehensive online banking and web portal
  • Go-anywhere mobile banking, including deposits & bill pay
  • Apple, Android, Samsung Pay
  • No-fee ATM access
  • Zelle® person-to-person transfers

Transactions, Deposits & Your Security

  • Free identity theft recovery and monitoring services for credit cardholders
  • Free Card Guard® mobile app
  • Free direct deposits
  • Youth and student savings
  • Share, money market, individual retirement and health savings accounts
  • Low-rate Visa® options, including rewards & cash back
  • Business and commercial deposit, transaction accounts
  • Merchant account services

Lending

  • #1 auto lender in our region
  • RV loans
  • Auto/RV research and valuation tools
  • Convenient on-site dealer financing
  • Mortgage, real estate, home equity & construction loans
  • Lines of credit and overdraft protection
  • Business, commercial, and SBA loans
  • Personal and consolidation loans

Complete Financial Needs

  • Trust services
  • Investments
  • Insurance
  • And more
Financial Strength & Integrity

Each year, we hear of businesses that are disrupted, fail, quit, are acquired, or otherwise disappear. Often, this is caused by inadequate fiscal reserves, loss of discipline, and/or lack of integrity. I am pleased to report that America First is safe, sound, and independently rated among the best and strongest financial institutions in the country; our commitment to ethical standards and integrity is unyielding.

Accordingly, our net worth equaled $1.279 billion at year’s end, up 11.82% from 2018 and closing at 10.92%. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), our federal regulator, considers 7% well-capitalized. Our strong net-worth position engenders health during the ups and downs of economic cycles. America First additionally achieved positive/unqualified exam results from our regulator and an independent external auditor.

Credit union assets increased 13.47% to $11.713 billion. Yearly net income exceeded $135 million, producing a healthy 1.21% return on assets. America First’s loan portfolio grew by 11.09% to $9.358 billion, while deposits were 13.76% higher to finish at $10.343 billion. The 90.48% loan/deposit ratio demonstrates prudent use of funds while allowing for adequate liquidity. The overall loan portfolio mix is diversified, has minimal interest rate risk, and reflects appropriate credit risk levels. Allowance for loan loss reserves are more than adequate to absorb any portfolio deficiencies.

Our top priority is protecting members’ personal data, information, resources, and accounts. Internal and external resources review, upgrade, and monitor IT systems. America First does not sell member information.

Strategic and Balanced Growth

Growth is an essential element of sustainability. Entering new markets, welcoming new members, developing new services, and broadening existing relationships is important to diversifying. Growth for its sake alone is problematic, but balanced advancement is vital.

America First’s field of membership is well-diversified geographically and socioeconomically; we expect stable growth prospects going forward. For the year, membership rose by 8.79% to nearly 1.1 million. We are the region’s #1 credit union but, more significantly, we’ve developed deep and positive primary account relationships.

New branches opened in West Valley, Utah; Rexburg, Idaho; and Las Vegas, Nevada, with more planned for 2020. After careful consideration, two locations were closed. In addition, a merger with a small Provo, Utah-based credit union was completed. As 2019 ended, we had 131 branches with locations in Utah, Nevada, Arizona & Idaho.

To protect our relevance in an evolving marketplace, we’re active in legislative and community affairs on local, state, and national levels. We believe it’s imperative to be an outstanding corporate citizen, encourage financial wellness, and lend support to organizations working for the greater good. To that end, the America First Charitable Foundation provides resources, service, and expertise to food drives, Warm the Soles of Kids programs, the 100% For Kids Credit Union Education Foundation, Souper Bowl of Caring, and many other deserving causes. Our employees and volunteers donate countless hours of personal time and effort to service outreach.

Once again, I express my utmost appreciation to all the dedicated individuals who are devoted to continual improvement. I am grateful for the members who support and promote our credit union. America First is well-positioned for a bright future.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

John B. Lund, President and CEO

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

By 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

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.