Brand Story – First Federal Savings & Loan Association, headquartered in McMinnville, has roots in the community stretching back to 1922.
Today it is an award-winning financial institution that has been recognized as one of the healthiest banks in America and the best small bank in Oregon. While its staff can help with personal banking and home mortgages, it also has a robust commercial lending department that prides itself on its personal approach to the lending process.
“We’ve always had a focus on community,” says CEO Jim Schlotfeldt. “As a Mutual Savings & Loan Association, we are owned by our depositors, which gives us a different perspective. We don’t have to worry about quarterly earnings calls with analysts so we can make longer-term decisions.”
CEO Jim Schlotfeldt
First Federal is a community-oriented financial institution, with about one-third of its loans given to the commercial sector. That means it has a commercial team that works in that realm day in, day out, applying their expertise to the loan process. Whether a business is seeking a cash infusion to acquire new equipment, purchase land, construct a building, or to expand, First Federal’s workforce understands all the ins and outs of business development. And of course, it can offer the full spectrum of residential mortgages and home loans.
“We’ve been lenders for many years, so whether you’re a first time home buyer, buying your forever home, or if you’re building or expanding a business, we can help you through that process,” says Chief Credit Officer Brent Murray.
As one of the last mutual savings and loans still serving Oregon, First Federal understands that a loan application is much more than just data on a spreadsheet. “We always say that we look beyond the numbers to make it really personal,” says Murray. “When it comes to our commercial lending, we’re looking for clients that we can team up with and support so that we can grow our community, to offer living-wage jobs and healthy growth. It’s fantastic to be able to do that, and we really get to know our borrowers that way.”
The team does not just stamp the loans. When a business owner walks in, it is the first step to a personal conversation about the goals of that business, what types of jobs it wants to provide, how the business impacts the community, and how the loan will help with that.
Chief credit officer Brent Murray with a client
First Federal’s employees and the community appreciates that personal connection. Chief Banking Officer (and previous commercial loan officer) Ron Wolfe says First Federal is small enough to really work hands-on with business owners, but large enough and experienced enough to help grow, support and maintain strong businesses in Oregon.
While COVID-19 has forced changes to many in-person services, the team has responded by doubling down on both safe operations and developing a personal relationship with every client. “It’s very important to us to be good stewards of safety for both our employees and our clients in how we interact,” Wolfe says.
“Even though our lobbies have recently reopened, we’re still maintaining proper safety protocols. We have been able to be more thoughtful about how we’re setting up appointments and the services we’re going to provide and talk about while we’re meeting together for better communication and a better process.”
Prior to the pandemic, First Federal had invested in its digital banking platforms and services, which is still an important piece of the convenience it offers. “The digital platforms are great,” Wolfe says, “and we encourage that convenience for people. Beyond that we want people to know that we’re still connected, we’re still here, we’re still engaged, and a human being answers the phone when you call us.”
Chief banking officer Ron Wolfe
First Federal grew right along with the Willamette Valley. It was founded in McMinnville in 1922 as the American Savings and Loan Corporation. In 1936, during the Great Depression, it became chartered at the federal level and became the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of McMinnville. It has since added locations in Amity, Carlton, Newberg, Sheridan, and McMinnville. In 1936 the S&L had about $130,000 in assets. As of the beginning of January, that number is about $550 million. The institution has survived and thrived because it can be flexible. For instance, if a client does not fit the mold, Murray and his team are ready to figure out how to make it work.
“Being able to go the extra mile and do things that may be out of the ordinary is kind of the exciting part of it,” says Wolfe. “We enjoy that quite a bit and that’s something that sets a small community financial institution apart from the rest of the group out there.”
Being local is a point of pride for the employees of First Federal. The 90 employees average 3,300 volunteer hours per year by being engaged in some service to the community, whether it is civic organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, serving on boards, Rotary Club, etc. Murray says those relationships are a key to their success. Without those relationships, it would not have been possible for First Federal to be recognized as a 10-time corporate philanthropy award winner by the Portland Business Journal, the best small bank in Oregon by Newsweek, one of the top 200 healthiest banks in America as recognized by DepositAccounts.com, or as a repeat BauerFinancial five-star financial institution.
“That all points to the personal relationships we’re able to build through our deep connections to the community,” says Wolfe.
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.