President’s Message

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.

Founding Principles of Integrity Lead to a Legacy of Strength

By John B. Lund, President & Chief Executive Officer

Dear members,

I am honored to report on behalf of America First Credit Union and express my appreciation for your membership and support. This year, we celebrate our 80th anniversary—Fort Douglas Civilian Employees Credit Union was founded 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. Building on this same focus and passion, America First now stands as one of the strongest and most well-respected credit unions in the country.

The past 12 months have produced outstanding results. Although we are a national top-10 credit union and have a significant presence, we endeavor each day to provide relevant, affordable products in a convenient, professional and personal manner. In 2018, Forbes ranked America First #1 in their Best-In-State credit union review; I humbly agree.

 We have three pillars guiding our operation to ensure long-term health and vitality:

  1.  Lifetime relationships with members.
  2. Strategic and balanced growth.
  3. Financial strength and integrity.

Lifetime relationships

Our loyalty, retention and utilization numbers are among the industry’s highest. America First’s Net Promoter Score—a benchmark for evaluating service quality—stood at 81.9 at year’s end, a mark achieved only by the best of the best.

To establish lasting connections, we develop services, tools and information geared to benefit members throughout life’s many stages. We have youth and student accounts designed to increase financial literacy and promote responsibility. We deliver free checking, free debit cards, and free 24/7 account access through mobile and online banking, as well as at thousands of ATMs. With Visa® from America First, you’ll earn cash back, rewards, merchant-paid discounts and additional cash rebates.

No-cost financial counseling is available to those seeking a helping hand with budgeting, planning, or setting a new economic course. Members can review their credit scores for free, while our branches host free educational seminars and document shredding services, among other events.

America First proudly provides a diverse array of lending products, including Visa credit cards, lines of credit, mortgages and home equity loans, auto & RV financing and personal loans, as well as Small Business Administration and commercial loans. In addition, we provide investments, trust services, insurance, and a full complement of savings vehicles, including money market, certificate, retirement and health savings accounts.

To combat the prevalence of data breaches and fraud, we offer members and their families identity theft recovery and monitoring services. This is tremendous coverage that extends beyond America First accounts. All that is required for this protection is to hold a Visa credit card from America First. Similarly, free Card Guard® mobile security allows real-time control of when, where and how your Visa is used.

We maintain a large branch network throughout Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho. Additional locations are planned this year. Credit union access and communication is provided via our robust website, free telephone banking, toll-free contact centers, secure email, and live chat. We foster informative, engaging social and digital media dialogue.

Our premier mobile and electronic services are nationally recognized for technology, simplicity and functionality. Products include mobile deposit, mobile & online bill pay, Apple, Android and Samsung Pay, person-to-person payments, and more.

Growing in a balanced, strategic manner

At America First, we do not seek to grow for the sake of growth. Expanding opportunity strategically and carefully gives us the ability to adapt products, services, security measures and other offerings to changing needs. Balanced growth further reduces risk, sustains appropriate capital levels, and promotes ongoing success.

 A few highlights for 2018 are:

  • Utah’s #1 credit union
  • The country’s 9th largest credit union with assets exceeding $10 billion
  • The nation’s 6th most substantial with over one million members and the 8th largest in terms of deposits 
  • Leading business, mortgage & credit card provider
  • The region’s #1 auto lender
  • Successfully merged with Altier Credit Union of Arizona
  • Five new branch locations opened
  • New departments established to enhance service and security

Ensuring financial strength and integrity

America First is fiscally sound and independently rated as one of the country’s most secure credit unions. We closed the year with $1.114 billion in net worth and a net worth ratio of 11.08%. Our federal regulator, the National Credit Union Administration, considers a net worth ratio of 7% to be well-capitalized. Last year, we received positive results from our annual regulatory and external audit examinations.

Net income for 2018 totaled $119.3 million. Assets were up by 11.65%, closing at $10.3 billion. Return on assets was a strong 1.20%. Membership grew at a healthy 10.63%, while deposits increased $989.5 million or 12.24%. Loans increased at a rate of 21.08%, finishing the year at $8.4 billion. Loan delinquency increased slightly to 1.16%. Our allowance for loan and lease loss is more than adequate to absorb any portfolio deficiencies.

This commitment to integrity extends beyond our role as a financial institution. We believe in the importance of good corporate citizenship and enhancing the communities we share. America First works to improve our schools, provide for the less fortunate, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Such programs include food drives, our Warm the Soles campaign, the Souper Bowl of Caring, the 100% For Kids Credit Union Education Foundation, the credit union’s own charitable foundation, scholarships, and many other worthy causes. Further, our team donates considerable hours of personal time to service outreach.

My deepest gratitude is extended to the volunteers and staff, who are passionate about serving the membership, whether directly or indirectly. Our commitment to the uppermost standards of ethics and integrity, forward-thinking strategies, prudent financial management, and excellence in service has endured the test of time and the inevitability of changing economic cycles. It’s therefore a pleasure to state that our credit union is strong, vibrant and well-positioned for the future. Finally, I express my utmost appreciation to you as valued members. We pledge our best efforts to maintain your trust and establish a lifelong relationship.

Protecting Your Resources No Matter the Economic Direction

By Glen Olpin, Senior Vice President & Chief Economist

As economic expansion in the United States continues, we are approaching one of the longest-running periods of growth on record, with the 120-month benchmark likely to be surpassed in 2019. We expect this positive trend to extend through the year.

Overall economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product, has seen ongoing improvement in Utah and neighboring western states. These have been among the top states in economic strength and we believe such strong performance will be ongoing.

Consumers are leading the recovery, their confidence being at an all-time high. Households are spending more and increasing debt levels. Personal income is up from last year, driven in part by tight labor markets. Low unemployment rates and an abundance of new job openings are applying upward pressure on wages.

Tax reform and regulation relief have encouraged stronger industrial production. Capital expenditures remain robust. The business sector should demonstrate durability comparable to the consumer segment, boosting economic security. However, issues of concern for stock and bond markets—weakening global indices, fears of ongoing trade wars, border security disputes and gridlock in Washington—may impede broad economic gains.

Home prices are rising more quickly than upticks in personal income, although the pace of price increases has slowed. Mortgage rates should gradually increase. The higher cost of housing, lower income gains, and long-term rate increases are reducing affordability for owners, with little near-term relief in sight. Moderate increases in sales are expected.

Positive underlying economic fundamentals supported the auto industry in 2018, but as manufacturers pay more for labor and materials, consumers will bear much of that burden. Demand for new vehicles is expected to cool somewhat this year, as buyers become more selective and price-conscious.

Indications suggest that inflation doesn’t pose a serious threat to the economy. Accordingly, following a series of minimal short-term rate hikes, the Federal Open Market Committee pushed the pause button, presumably for the first half of 2019.

Longer-term rates have seen small, sustained increases and are expected to go up slowly. The flattening yield curve, more moderate overall growth, a narrowing labor situation, and rising wage pressures give us mixed signals as to future financial strength.

Although challenges and market fluctuations will continue, we expect this year to generate solid economic results. As America First members, you can be assured that we will provide flexible, affordable, and convenient products & services that fit your changing needs.

Renewal Brings Opportunity for Beneficial Change

By John B. Lund, President and CEO

It’s hard for me to believe another year has come and gone, yet I always appreciate this annual opportunity to pause and reflect on treasured memories & accomplishments.

Additionally, it’s a time to re-focus our efforts toward achieving the goals being set for the months ahead. Reader’s Digest traditionally compiles its 15 most popular New Year’s resolutions. Here is the 2019 list:

  1. Get into shape
  2. Lose weight
  3. Enjoy life to the fullest
  4. Spend less, save more
  5. Dedicate additional time to family, friends
  6. Become better organized
  7. Learn something new
  8. Travel
  9. Break a smartphone addiction
  10. Cook meals at home rather than dining out
  11. Cut down on drinking
  12. Stop smoking
  13. Reduce stress
  14. Make sleep a priority
  15. Floss regularly

Whether or not the above aspirations factor into your plans, some of them coincide with mine. In fact, I’m pleased to know that three or four have already been conquered!

America First Credit Union can be key to meeting several of these objectives. We provide sound advice and counseling, will help you discover new ways to conveniently and efficiently manage your money, and we’ll assist you in prioritizing saving, while reducing spending.

Visit a local branch to review your finances. We’ll explore the possibility of lowering the interest rates on loans & credit cards. We offer programs that generate additional cash back for the purchases you’re already making. Our premier electronic services deliver enhanced security and real-time transaction control. America First Visa® credit cards also feature free identity theft recovery services that include protection and monitoring.

These are just a few examples of how we strive to simplify and improve the financial aspect of your life, lessening that source of stress. When your financial affairs are in order and you’re maximizing the available benefits, you’ll likely have more time and energy for family, friends, hobbies, exercise and other pursuits.

Our goal at America First is to become and remain your primary financial partner. We are dedicated to being relevant to all stages of life and ensuring your interactions with the credit union are positive and productive. We thank you for your trust and look forward to a lasting relationship.

Reflections of the Season

By John B. Lund, President & CEO

As I write this message, I have very mixed and deep emotions. I always look forward to the holidays and the excitement, splendor, beauty, and feelings of good will they bring. At the same time, I realize there are individuals and families under tremendous stress, who are facing hardships, or who have broken hearts and cause to mourn. The holidays can bring significant peace and comfort during these times, yet in some cases, the season may seem to magnify the difficulties they are going through.

I’ve also been thinking about the recent observation of Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving. There is so much for which we are grateful as citizens of this wonderful country. We enjoy unparalleled opportunity in terms of education, employment, health, religious freedom, recreation, service, and general quality of life.

We’re truly indebted to the men, women and their families who sacrifice tremendously—in many cases with their own lives—to protect and promote peace. Other individuals such as teachers, friends, co-workers, leaders and family members also enrich our spirits. Upon reflection, I’m indeed thankful for my great parents. They have passed on, but the tremendous memories and life lessons they left continue to bless and inspire all who knew them.

I’m certainly appreciative of America First Credit Union. Our mission is to improve our members’ financial well-being and to enhance the communities we call home. Our volunteers and staff are passionate about this purpose. We stand ready to educate, inform and assist you during both joyous and challenging experiences.

I regularly speak with members who share examples of the excellent service they have received. Additionally, I’m genuinely humbled to hear stories of life-changing events where America First has helped provide solutions to complex and trying circumstances.

Please accept our sincere thanks for your membership and loyalty. We look forward to a lifelong relationship. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season, and a productive and joyful new year.

The Buddy System

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

I recently heard a neighbor refer to the buddy system in conversation, immediately bringing back memories of my youth and participating in Boy Scouts of America activities. Whenever our troop went on a campout, hike or other outdoor excursion, we always paired off and were assigned a buddy for the event’s duration. Additionally, each child received a designated number to remember and count off during roll calls. At the time, although I knew these were safety measures, I did not understand the true power of this seemingly simple procedure. Years later, as an adult Scout leader—a role in which I was responsible for providing protection, developing learning, and creating positive experiences—I became a true believer.

Since then, I learned that the buddy system extends well beyond the scope of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It is practiced extensively in all branches of the United States armed forces, at schools, within religious organizations, and by diverse businesses. New employees often benefit from mentors who are there to teach and guide others during the first few months of work.

The dictionary defines the buddy system as a cooperative arrangement whereby individuals are paired or teamed up and assume responsibility for one another’s instruction, productivity, welfare & security.

In the world of personal, family and business finances, we are all at different levels of education, experience and understanding. Having a buddy, partner, or mentor there to offer instruction, boost production, promote the common welfare, and facilitate financial health is extremely valuable. At America First Credit Union, we strive to be that resource and your partner in this endeavor.

We have an extensive array of outstanding products & services, as well as a wonderful team of trained professionals to deliver them, throughout all stages of your financial journey. We appreciate your membership, loyalty, and look forward to a lifelong relationship with you and your family.

The Power of Pulling Together

By John B. Lund, President and Chief Executive Officer

I recently read an interesting article about the power and majesty of draft horses, which also provided me with a valuable learning example.

While the Clydesdales may be the most familiar to many, given their presence in holiday advertising, there are actually several different breeds of draft horses.

Weighing up to a ton, these magnificent, muscular animals can pull and move tremendous loads. A single draft horse can haul up to 8,000 pounds. Such strength is difficult to imagine, but the lesson is more effective when I discovered what two horses working together can accomplish.

The obvious answer would seem to be 16,000 pounds or twice the weight one can drag behind him. But two of these horses can move up to 24,000 pounds—three times the weight one can tow. This alone illustrates the value of teamwork, but more impressive is the fact that when two draft horses are trained together and labor alongside each other, their pulling capacity increases to 32,000 pounds—four times the weight either could have moved alone!

Life is full of twists, turns and ongoing challenges, which often requires significant effort to reach our goals, especially when it comes to personal or business finances. At America First, our desire is to be an essential part of your financial team. We are confident that, as we regularly work and learn together, we can truly improve your well-being in ways extending far beyond what could be managed by one individual.

Whether you’re consolidating and reducing debt, saving for the future, establishing good credit, working on a financial or estate plan, purchasing or remodeling a home, financing a vehicle, funding a business venture, or using our award-winning technology, we are here to help.

Thanks for your membership and loyalty. We look forward to a lifelong relationship of pulling together with you and your family.