President’s Message

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.

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.