Brand Story – Financial institution puts precedent on the local people it serves over profits.
At First Federal Savings & Loan, customers are more than just a number. They are neighbors and partners who know that their financial institution will work for them and give back to the community.
First Federal has six locations — two in McMinnville and one each in Newberg, Carlton, Amity and Sheridan. Serving the Willamette Valley for 101 years, the S&L tailors its business to rural communities, which typically are underserved by traditional banks.
First Federal owes its longevity to its hyperlocal dedication. Its leaders collaborate and are expected to not only serve the company but the community as well. Its board of directors is composed of nine individuals who live in the community and have roots deep there.
Local Leadership team members Matt Zoch, Chief Information Officer; Caroll Riley, Chief Banking Officer; Lindsay Liddell, Chief Marketing Officer; and Jill Faughender, Human Resource Director, review the recipients of the Customer Ballot program.
Another key to the institution’s long tenure is its status as a mutual savings and loan locally controlled and owned by depositors. “We can’t be forced to sell. Our board and management team have made good decisions and are committed to staying independent as a resource for the community,” President and CEO Jim Schlotfeldt said. “We reward individual and team success; we encourage winning together.”
Other savings and loans in Oregon have been converted to stock companies that must answer to shareholders, requiring a bigger focus on quarterly earnings. Instead, First Federal can take a longer-term perspective and make decisions that benefit the community over profits at times.
Partners in philanthropy
First Federal’s leaders don’t make empty promises. They follow through on projects and philanthropic efforts that lift the entire community.
“We’ve just completed our Customer Ballot Program, which started in 1999. We give our customers a chance to weigh in on how we divvy up $40,000 to fulfill community needs,” said Chief Marketing Officer Lindsay Liddell, adding that this year, there were 92 worthy organizations listed and 87 nonprofits in Yamhill County will be on the receiving end. The top five recipients are Homeward Bound Pets, YCAP Food Bank, Juliette’s House, Newberg Animal Shelter Friends and Vine Medical Center.
Other community impact programs include:
• Quarterly Community Grants for nonprofits in Yamhill County ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.
• A partnership with Linfield University to provide internship opportunities with nonprofits.
• Scholarships worth $2,000 each for eight graduating high school seniors going to a college, university or technical school.
First Federal has hit several milestones along the way. Honors in recent years include being named Best Small Bank in Oregon by Newsweek in 2021; among the Top 200 Healthiest Banks in America by DepositAccounts.com, a Lending Tree subsidiary in 2020; and maintaining a five-star rating from BauerFinancial Inc., the nation’s leading bank rating firm, every year since 2016.
Changing with the times
First Federal has developed a model that works but isn’t stagnant. It has gained market share and continues to grow and adapt, offering new products and services as need evolves. “We have added online tools and a mobile app. Being small allows us to pivot quickly,” Schlotfeldt said.
While rolling out more web services, the S&L recognizes that many customers appreciate more personal attention. While First Federal’s digital footprint has expanded, it also still offers that human connection for their clientele who desire one-on-one interaction with a live teller. And this year, First Federal also developed a bilingual committee of eight employees to tailor financial services as that demand has increased.
Jim Schlotfeldt, President and Chief Executive Officer, reenergizes the value of community banking in the heart of Yamhill County.
First Federal cares for its employees as much as its clients and was recognized this year by Oregon Business as one of the top 100 companies to work for in Oregon. The company experiences very low worker turnover compared to most banking institutions. This month, Lisa McKinney, senior loan officer for consumer lending, is celebrating her 40th anniversary with the S&L, working her way up through the ranks from teller. And there are others marking two and three decades with the company.
The population in the areas First Federal serves is growing. The financial institution knows its market and a big portion of its business focuses on offering lending services to homeowners and small businesses. “We specialize in commercial, home and construction and development lending. Applying for a mortgage can take as little as 20 minutes,” said Chief Banking Officer Caroll Riley.
“Our ability and desire to lend ‘outside the box,’ such as on small vineyards, nonconforming properties or owner-occupied B&Bs, is what truly makes our lending team unique,” she added.
Local Leadership team members Jill Faughender, Human Resource Director; Matt Baker, Chief Financial Officer; and Jim Schlotfeldt, President and Chief Executive Officer, in the institution’s downtown McMinnville office.
First Federal is a portfolio lender. It retains its loans locally and doesn’t sell them to other institutions. “People don’t need to worry about where they will make their continued payments. Our decisions are made locally. We don’t have to reach out to an underwriter or credit analysts in a different part of the country who might not understand the Northwest environment,” Riley said.
As other banks and financial institutions struggle, First Federal is secure. “Recognized as one of the top 100 healthiest banks in the country, First Federal adheres to a traditional banking model and does not participate in any of the unsafe practices that have led to the recent high-profile failures of financial institutions,” Schlotfeldt said. “With robust capital and liquidity, you can remain confident that First Federal is strong, stable and poised to assist our customers now and into the future.”
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.