President’s Message

Ensuring Member Success Creates A Vital Credit Union

By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

In a beautiful poem titled “A Nation’s Strength,” Ralph Waldo Emerson reveals the true measure of any country’s success. His verse, consisting of only six stanzas, has a deep and clear message. Emerson suggests it is the people of a society—not its might, riches or natural resources—that make it strong. Here at America First, we realize our health & stability are derived from the same source: the families & businesses we serve. This knowledge forms the basis of our motto, Members come first.

Further, the credit union’s mission statement declares our commitment to “provide personal financial services of a superior quality to the members/owners; our chief concern is their financial well-being.” The America First membership has been the key to our sustained prosperity for nearly eight decades. Like Emerson, we know the credit union was and will only be healthy and vital to the extent that it elevates the financial lives of those who join.

This can be clearly seen in America First’s operating results for the first half of 2018. We now have more than 960,000 members, all seeking exceptional, convenient, secure products. As the membership has grown, so too has our ability to offer world-class services. Even as assets exceeded $10 billion for the first time, by carefully balancing growth, we can continue delivering personal service of the highest quality, whether through our branch network, industry-leading mobile & online channels, or award-winning contact centers.

If we look at America First’s performance from a traditional financial perspective, we can clearly determine that the credit union is safe and sound, with reserves over 150% of minimum regulatory requirements. Those assets are then reinvested to make America First membership more beneficial. And so it goes, as members, now and in the future, take full advantage of what is offered to them, their position is enhanced and they enjoy greater value. In turn, their collective strength propels the organization forward, allowing us to provide the most advanced financial services available.

At your credit union, we take Emerson’s viewpoint to heart—the well-being of America First is inextricably tied to how well we serve you, which is why we are dedicated to the ideal that members come first.

Remembering

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

I was recently in a meeting during which our group leader discussed the importance and value of remembering where we came from, those who were a positive influence, and those helping to shape who we are. After some introductory comments, he turned the time over to us, allowing many to share their meaningful memories. It was an especially uplifting and motivational experience to hear heartfelt stories of parents, teachers, coaches, friends, even brief acquaintances and others observed from a distance.

This exercise stirred recollections of my own, some of which I hadn’t thought about for years. It also caused me to ponder the kind of memories I might be intentionally or unintentionally creating for family, friends, co-workers and those around me. I recommitted to being more sensitive with my words and actions, and to have an optimistic outlook.

For me, the process of remembering the positive people, events, and life circumstances leads to deeper gratitude. Several scientific studies have validated that being grateful leads to better health and wellness.

July is a month filled with picnics, barbeques, outdoor fun and a host of celebrations, including Independence Day. Amid these happy occasions, I hope we can also pause to remember the thousands of men and women who sacrificed so much to preserve our freedoms. We are very fortunate to live in a land of opportunity and goodness.

As members of America First, I want you to know that I remember and value the credit union’s mission, which compels us to have the passion and determination necessary to provide personal and business services of superior quality. Our chief concern is the financial well-being of each member. Striving to always keep this purpose in mind generates gratitude for your trust in America First, for your loyalty, and for promoting the credit union to your family and friends.

Thank you very much. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

America First and Altier Credit Unions Merge, Forming A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

I am pleased to officially announce the merger of Altier Credit Union of Tempe, Arizona and America First Credit Union. Following much thought and many discussions, it became clear that this partnership was an outstanding match in terms of culture, service ethic and strategy. Under the agreement, America First will be the continuing credit union.

Altier opened in 1947 as the Salt River Valley Water Users Association employee credit union. In 2006, it was re-named Altier and the field of membership expanded to include residents of Maricopa County, Arizona. The credit union enjoys a rich tradition of excellence; the merger’s mutual goal is keeping this legacy in place and building upon it, providing financial services that are second to none.

Altier has five branches in Arizona; three in the greater Phoenix area and one each in Page & St. Johns. These locations will benefit all members living in the state and will provide additional access to our world-class products and exceptional member service.

Other benefits of our cooperative partnership include anytime, anywhere access with free online and mobile banking, free online bill pay, mobile deposits, telephone banking and more. We also offer free checking, free nationwide ATM transactions, free educational seminars, free financial counseling, free credit scores, free document shredding events, as well as many financial calculators and budgeting tools. Additional information is available at americafirst.com or call 1-800-999-3961.

America First was founded in 1939 at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, when our membership numbered 59 and our assets stood at $25. We’re proud to have grown and flourished since then, becoming one of the nation’s strongest credit unions with stability, quality, and investment in technology among our top priorities.

Our continuing credit union is well-positioned for a bright, vibrant future and we’ll work diligently to earn your trust and support. Welcome to America First, where we look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

Volunteers Ensure Value is Delivered to the Members of America First Credit Union

By John B. Lund, President & CEO

On April 17, America First Credit Union held our 79th Annual Meeting. It is a privilege to be associated with a member-owned cooperative that has endured and thrived for nearly eight decades by assisting families and businesses in achieving financial well-being.

Certainly, one reason for this longevity is our unique structure and leadership. We are fortunate to have a volunteer Board of Directors, comprised of individuals who serve without compensation to ensure that we deliver relevant products and services in a convenient, professional manner; that we help simplify your busy lives; and that we provide ways for you to keep more of your hard-earned money.

At this year’s meeting, Lyle B. Adams, Cathy Person, and John D. Spease were nominated and approved to serve three-year terms on our Board, joining Barney B. Chapman, Linda K. Carver, Gil A. Miller, Kenlon W. Reeve, Michael R. Roden and James G Wendler.

It was also an appropriate opportunity to honor and pay tribute to retiring board members Joy Jex and Ed Cline, who served America First for 39 and 41 years, respectively. Our organization is certainly indebted to their expertise and commitment.

We additionally owe a great deal of gratitude to the volunteers on the Loan Review and Supervisory Committees. The Loan Review Committee allows members the opportunity to request appeals of lending decisions. The committee and members then work together to find beneficial solutions.

The Supervisory Committee offers operational and regulatory oversight, joining senior management and our internal audit department staff to keep the credit union on strong financial footing, with sound policies and procedures.

In his meeting remarks, Chairman Wendler ably summarized our mission at America First: “No matter the area of endeavor, our core values guide how we operate. For this credit union, how we do business is as important as the business we do. We believe in putting the financial well-being of the members first. Whatever the means of access, we are here to serve you.”

It was my pleasure to report that, by every measure, 2017 was an outstanding year for America First. Our member engagement and service scores are among the very best in the nation. Our federal regulator and outside audit firm provided positive feedback regarding our operation, strategy and financial strength. Money Magazine named America First the best financial institution in Utah. While we are considered a large and complex credit union, our people, systems and philosophy remain personal, approachable and accessible.

On behalf of our volunteers and staff, I express my sincere thanks for choosing America First. We are committed to seeking a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

Service Excellence Delivers Long-Term Benefits to America First Members

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

Dear valued members,

I feel fortunate and humbled to be a part of such an outstanding organization and I am pleased to report that 2017 was a period of significant accomplishment. Our credit union is strong, stable, and well-positioned for a bright future. We will work diligently to continue earning your trust and support.

Additionally, I am honored to report that Money Magazine recognized America First as Utah’s best financial institution; the following principles illustrate just four of the reasons why:

ValueWe endeavor to provide relevant products and services in a convenient and professional manner, simplify busy lives, and help members keep more of their hard-earned money.

To that end, we offer free checking, free 24/7 online & mobile banking, free nationwide ATM withdrawals, free educational seminars, free financial counseling, free credit scores, free document shredding events, free financial calculators and budgeting tools, as well as numerous benefits that recognize the value we provide.

Our Visa® cards allow worldwide transactions, deliver industry-leading cash back & rewards programs, and provide merchant-funded offers that generate additional cash. Using Visa from America First further brings free identity theft recovery services, account and fraud monitoring, real-time security, and free mobile device management, including the ability to turn cards on and off. Discounts for transactions made with our Visas are available at retailers, events, and recreational opportunities.

The credit union’s loan and deposit products consistently lead the competition in rate, flexibility and choice. We are the market’s number-one auto lender and rank among the best in RV and mortgage financing.

America First business members have a wealth of resources at their disposal, including SBA loans, lines of credit, Visa credit accounts, complete in-house merchant services, free checking, and many other significant advantages.

Encompassing a financial solution for every need, we also offer fully managed insurance, investments, health savings, retirement planning, wealth management, and trust services.

ServiceIt is our goal to establish meaningful lifelong relationships, serving our members how, where & when they choose.

In addition to a significant, multi-state network of 125 branches, America First creates an anytime, anywhere environment with award-winning online and mobile services, mobile deposits, telephone banking, live chat, and robust social and digital media platforms.

Loyalty, retention, and product utilization numbers remain among the best in the nation. Our Net Promoter score–a benchmark for evaluating service quality—is at a level attained by only the best of the best companies.

Throughout my associations and travels, it is not uncommon for individuals to share stories of how America First has served, supported, and benefitted them when they learn of my position with the credit union. It is extremely satisfying knowing we are improving the lives of those around us.

StrengthAmerica First demonstrates fiscal strength, stability, soundness and is independently rated among the best credit unions in the country.

Last year, we received positive results from a National Credit Union Administration examination and from an external auditing firm. When completed, we expect a similar outcome for 2017.

During turbulent economic times, such as the deep recession of 2008 to 2010, a lack of capital strength was often the root cause leading to the weakening or failure of a financial institution. This is not the case with our credit union, as America First closed the year with $912.3 million in capital, up 8.07% from 2016. Our net worth ratio is 11.11%, well above the federal regulatory requirement.

Net income totaled $93.4 million. Assets grew by 12.07%, ending the year above $9.2 billion—America First is now the 10th largest credit union in the nation in terms of this measurement.  Return on assets was a healthy 1.06%. Our membership continued growing at a healthy pace, closing 2017 at over 905,000. Deposits increased $893.4 million (12.39%) and loans grew by more than $1 billion, or 17.16%. Delinquencies rose slightly to .93%; however, the allowance for loan loss is more than adequate to absorb any portfolio deficiencies.

Our top priority is protecting members’ personal data, financial information, resources, and accounts. America First’s highly regarded information technology systems and networks are continually upgraded, enhanced, monitored, and secured.

HeartWe remain committed to improving our communities & schools, making a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

Examples of these efforts include supporting food drives, contributing thousands of personal volunteer service hours, and making meaningful financial contributions to worthwhile charitable organizations. We support schools, communities, children’s hospitals, financial literacy, educational scholarships, and dozens of projects that promote the greater good.

My deepest gratitude is extended to our volunteers and staff, all of whom are passionate about serving you and who remain sincere in their dedication to seek continual improvement. Most importantly, I express my utmost appreciation to you, our members, and reiterate our commitment to developing and maintaining a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

 

Guest Commentary: All Indicators are Positive for Continued Economic Growth

By Glen Olpin, Senior Vice President—Chief Economist

February of 2018 marks the 104th straight month of national economic recovery. This period of economic improvement may be the longest, yet weakest on record, but there are no signs of a slowdown on the horizon.

Utah and neighboring Intermountain West states are experiencing stronger overall growth than the national average. Nationwide strength in economic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) was recently reported for 2017; we expect continued strength throughout this year.

Businesses have acted cautiously during the latest cycle of an improving economy; however, recent measures assessing the commercial sector show increased strength and confidence. We expect a favorable business services and lending climate to prevail in 2018.

Consumers have led the recovery and remain optimistic about the future. Utah and surrounding states are exhibiting strong employment growth and personal income is rising. Consumer spending has been solid and we expect to see continued strength in spending this year. There are some cautionary indicators, however, including consumer debt rising to pre-recession levels.

Inflation has been slowly trending upward since late 2015, but it does not constitute a threat to continuing economic growth; we are predicting inflation to remain in the 2% to 2.5% range during the coming year.

Short-term interest rates have slowly inched upward and are expected to rise by as much as an additional 1%. As these rates increase, long-term interest rates are expected to move moderately higher as well.

New and existing home sales have been healthy in the face of increasing prices. Housing and construction spending should stay robust. Real estate lending rates are also forecast to remain relatively low. These positive indicators are combining for an already favorable real estate environment to continue throughout 2018.

We have seen ongoing demand for automobiles and that trend is expected to continue. The need for America First vehicle financing is strong. We pledge to remain the leader in auto lending for our members.

Consistently low interest rates, a strengthening business environment, the wealth effect from increasing home values, continued fundamental vitality in the stock market, as well as the hope of reduced regulations and tax relief, are combining to increase consumer and business confidence in a growing economy well beyond 2018.

We expect this to be another successful year for America First Credit Union. We appreciate your membership and remain dedicated to serving your complete financial needs as we move forward together.

Our Promise is to Strive for Continued Excellence in Financial Services

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

As a new year begins, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the organization’s accomplishments during the previous months, as well as set goals and objectives for those to come. I made a list of personal benchmarks for myself and, so far, I’ve been reluctant to ask my wife what she thinks that checklist should really contain!

Your credit union performed very well in 2017. Several milestones were achieved, including the attainment of over $9 billion in total assets and more than 900,000 members. America First is the 11th largest credit union in the nation in terms of assets and the 6th largest in membership. We were honored to receive multiple awards and recognition from chambers of commerce, cities, and business groups, not the least of which was being named by Money Magazine as the best financial institution in Utah.

We certainly appreciate such positive recognition but, more importantly, it reinforces our dedication to the ideal of remaining relevant to our members’ financial needs in a changing and diverse landscape. Listed below are a few member comments that are representative of many we receive:

I believe your employees care for their members as people, instead of as income generators…Your service kept us at America First and will keep me [at the credit union] going forward.  Kudos to you for actually creating a corporate culture that stays true to your promise: Members come first. ~Virginia B.

 …I recommend [America First Credit Union] because of the care that I have received throughout the years. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! ~Tracy M.

I want to express my heartfelt thank you for the care and concern that Chad exhibited to my mother. [Because of] their conversation and his efforts, he was able to save my mother, who is on a very limited income, a lot of money. Thank you for having such great employees and an atmosphere that brings back the local friendly business that is as much a friendship as it is about business. ~Michael M.

I opened 3 accounts back in June. I was trying to get my credit straightened out to purchase a home. Aubrie was so helpful and gave me hope for what I thought was a hopeless situation.  I’ve since paid of much of my existing debt and my credit score has increased over 100 points. My old bank didn’t even have a suggestion for how to fix my credit problem. I thank [America First] and praise them for having great people like Aubrie! ~Online member feedback posted on November 21, 2017

For 2018, it is our desire and promise to continue assisting members to the best of our ability, providing beneficial products, services, and guidance that will improve and simplify your financial lives. Thank you for your trust in America First. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family & wish you a happy new year!

What Are Your Most Cherished Childhood Holiday Memories?

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

Every January, the entire America First management team gets together to kick off a new year, discuss our strategic plan and budget priorities, and generate enthusiasm for achieving future goals. I was addressing the group a couple of years ago at this event and, as an experiment, I asked for three volunteers to come forward. My request was quite simple, but came it as a bit of a surprise.

I asked each to share his or her fondest or most cherished childhood memory from Christmas or the holidays. None mentioned a bicycle, doll, or any other toy or gift. Without fail and with visible emotion, they all spoke of experiences with family, friends and neighbors they held dear. We heard of enjoyable times spent together; of games, laughter, delicious meals, and renewing connections with distant family members; and we learned how providing a surprise act of service brought joy. In short, they highlighted the value and enduring nature of meaningful relationships.

This simple exercise vividly illustrated what we truly value—positive relationships developed and strengthened over time. Although the nature of our affiliation is not as deeply personal, it is our desire at America First to develop a valued connection and relationship with each member we serve. Building such trust requires time, commitment, care, and providing relevant products & benefits that save you money and simplify your financial life. That is our pledge to all of you.

It is our hope that during this season and throughout the year, we will make the effort to remain optimistic, look for the good in others, do some good ourselves, and perhaps create a cherished memory for someone.

We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family. Please accept our best wishes for a merry Christmas and happy holiday season. Don’t forget to pick up your free 2018 calendar at any America First branch.

Remember the Meaning ‘Mail Call’ Has for our Veterans this Holiday Season

By John B. Lund, President & CEO

In November, we celebrate two national holidays, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving. As citizens of this country, there is much for which we are rightly grateful, not the least being our veterans, who served and sacrificed to preserve our freedoms, lessen tyranny & oppression all over the world, and provide hope to millions.

We at America First Credit Union recently had the opportunity & privilege to support and take part in an effort that benefits World War II veterans. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to recognize veterans for their immeasurable contributions. The network’s mission statement, in part, reads: To transport America’s Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. To quote from their web site, Top priority is given to the senior veterans–World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Of all the conflicts in recent memory, it was the Second World War that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 veterans of WWII die each day, meaning the time to share our gratitude with these brave men and women is running out.

This year, 26 veterans participated in the Honor Flight. I had the privilege of writing a letter on behalf of America First and from me personally that expressed appreciation for their service. This correspondence was included in a “mail call” the veterans enjoyed on their way home from Washington. Tears came to my eyes when I received and read the following note from one such hero:

Dear Friend/John,
I have just returned from one of the most memorable experiences in my life, an Honor Flight…This trip to Washington, D.C. included seeing the WWII Memorial, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Lincoln Memorial. Also, it was a very moving experience to visit Arlington National Cemetery. Although there were many enjoyable things that happened during this trip, one surprise stands out: MAIL CALL! Yes, mail call, just like we had during the war, with welcomed letters from home. One letter I received with great enjoyment was from you. I can’t tell you how much this meant to me, that you would take the time to send this note of appreciation for my service. Thank you so much! With Warm Regards,
Sgt. Charles “Fritz” Dolehi, U.S. Army Air Corps

Throughout the year, but perhaps most importantly during the holiday season, I hope we can all take the opportunity to give our veterans a cherished mail-call experience and thank them for their service. I and our entire team thank you for your membership in America First. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

Breaches & Identity Theft Are All Too Common—But We’re Here to Help You

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

Unfortunately, the news of data compromises occurring at merchants, large companies and most recently at Equifax, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies, is increasingly prevalent. Considering the Equifax incident involved nearly half the U.S. population—143 million residents—the chances of any given individual being affected are reasonably high. You can find out if this breach has impacted you at equifax.com. If your information is involved, there are steps you can and should take to protect your identity:

  • If you have an account with Equifax, change the password immediately. Be sure the new one is unique and not applicable to another site.
  • When you change a password, enable two-factor authentication when this feature is offered. Doing so will prevent those with malicious intent from requesting to reset your password, which would give them access to your account.
  • Monitor your credit reports. They are available from each of the three bureaus at no cost once a year. We also provide complimentary FICO® Scores, updated quarterly, through free online banking. Watch these indicators for negative movement.
  • Regularly review all your statements & transactions. Report potentially fraudulent charges immediately.
  • Be on the lookout for phishing emails that prompt you to click links or open attachments that are purportedly related to the Equifax situation. It’s also prudent to keep this in mind with any message you receive.
  • Identity thieves are additionally contacting consumers while posing as representatives of the credit bureaus. They will ask victims to provide personal information later used to defraud them. If you receive one of these phone calls, hang up immediately. If you need to speak with reporting agencies, contact them directly. This scam is sophisticated, with some caller IDs showing as originating from a bureau.

Your membership provides additional advantages that help safeguard your resources. Learn more about the following at americafirst.com:

  • Identity theft recovery services—If you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft, contact an America First representative, who can establish a case to help minimize the concern and impact. It’s free if you carry our Visa® credit cards & it covers all forms of ID theft.
  • Card Guard® mobile security—This free, state-of-the-art app gives you complete real-time control of when, where, and how your America First Visa cards are used.

Data breaches are serious problems for consumers and businesses. Financial institutions have complied with strict security measures since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act passed. However, retailers and other entities handling sensitive personal financial information are not subject to these same standards. We should all urge our representatives and senators to support comprehensive data security legislation.

Thank you for your trust in America First and for the opportunity to assist in your complete financial needs. We look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.