Brand Story – New Year, New HQ, New Look: A trio of milestones for First Federal.
It’s rare for most businesses to make it to the quarter-century mark, but this year First Federal Savings & Loan Association, headquartered in McMinnville, is celebrating 100 years. And now they’re not only celebrating a long and successful history, but a new headquarters and a new brand identity. First Federal has been recognized as one of the healthiest banks in America and the best small bank in Oregon.
Founded as American Savings and Loan Corporation it survived the downturn during the Great Depression, and in 1936 converted to a federal charter and became the First Federal Savings and Loan of McMinnville.
“Since then we’ve added branches in Amity, Carlton, Newberg, Sheridan, and other locations in McMinnville,” says president and CEO Jim Schlotfeldt. “We’ve grown to about $615 million in assets from our beginnings of $130,000 in assets in 1936.” Not only that, First Federal has given back millions of dollars to the community, and its 90 employees average about 3,300 volunteer hours per year.
The business and financial environment has changed a lot since First Federal was founded in 1922, and the bank has not only survived but thrived, in part because of the organization’s ability to be flexible and adapt.
“We have listened to our customer base and provided the services and tools that they need when they need them,” says Schlotfeldt. “And it also takes a board of directors and management that’s committed to remaining independent while also investing in products, services, and technology so that we remain relevant.”
Chief banking officer Ron Wolfe (left) and bank president and CEO Jim Schlotfeldt
The decision to rebrand was launched a few years ago in anticipation of a new headquarters being built and the centennial anniversary. While Schlotfeldt says staying relevant over a period of multiple decades did bring about changes, the organization as a whole never forgot where it started from and its original values. The organization also never strayed from where it was founded — and although it has a new headquarters, it still isn’t far from where it all began.
“We’ve always been headquartered on Third Street in McMinnville for that entire time,” says Schlotfeldt. “Different buildings, but on the same street.”
The new headquarters is also on the same block. Company leaders started evaluating their options for a new headquarters back in 2015, hired a contractor in 2017 and broke ground in May 2020, during the early weeks of the pandemic — which threw an unexpected wrench in the works. The construction brought a lot of jobs to a community that was on edge about lost employment.
During the pandemic and during construction, First Federal never closed the branch, and transitioned seamlessly from the old building to the new in what was basically an overnight move. The new look updates First Federal’s leaf logo for a modern square incorporating the Fs. With the anniversary and the new headquarters, the timeline just seemed right for a refresh of the look, says chief banking officer Ron Wolfe.
“Even though our business model hasn’t changed much, our overall look hadn’t changed either, really, in decades,” says Wolfe. “What was exciting was the conversation about who we are, where we’re going, and what we need to consider to go forward. Our new tagline, ‘Banking Built For your Future,’ incorporates all that we want to do to blend and balance technology with the human element and the deep relationship component of how our business works and how we connect to our clients.”
The new headquarters includes a full service branch and the central loan center. Two of First Federal’s strong suits are personal banking and home mortgage services, as well as a robust commercial lending department that puts community first. First Federal is owned by its depositors, not an outside group of shareholders, so they can make different decisions that are in the best interest of its members — if a customer doesn’t fit each checkbox on a form, the team will help them figure out how to get what they need and make it work.
COVID brought into the forefront the need for technology, accessibility, and 24-7 access to services. Technology is great, but it also needs to work hand-in-hand with a component of “real people” and support so that it works the way it is intended. First Federal is working to emphasize accessibility along with helpful, in-person guidance.
“We wanted to emphasize how people could use online banking, remote deposit, mobile banking, and all of those things, but also that there are real people here to help,” says Wolfe. “When people call our call center, it goes to people right here that are hands on, ready to help assist, who know our clients and have those personal relationships. Many other financial institutions are reducing brick and mortar access but we know that is still really important to our members. Our entire system is based on the human experience.”
Over the past 100 years, the human experience has changed and banking needs certainly have changed, but at each step of the way First Federal has been there.
“We’ve survived because we could provide what was needed at each point in time, over the decades,” states Schlotfeldt. “But as we grow and change, we never forget who we are and how our values are built into our history. Those same values will drive us forward. Those values of community first, remaining independent, and doing the right thing ahead of profits all those years is paying off.”
Learn more: www.firstfedweb.com
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.