In a Nutshell: FirstBank is a rare breed among large financial institutions in that it prioritizes customer satisfaction and community reinvestment. It starts with supporting financial literacy initiatives that educate children on the importance of money management. FirstBank also donates to local nonprofit organizations and encourages employees to give back by providing paid time off for volunteer work. And on the customer side, FirstBank offers a convenient, mobile-centric experience that meets consumers where they are. For its service, we recognize FirstBank with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Investment.
Credit unions pride themselves on providing personalized customer care and actively engaging in the community involvement, but their reach typically doesn’t extend beyond a single service area. Large financial institutions with regional or nationwide footprints may rely on online customer support and choose to partner with causes that help more extensive networks of people, with less focus in individual communities.
But FirstBank — one of the largest privately held banks in the United States — offers the best of both worlds.
“We’re a big bank that uses a community banking model, and we pride ourselves on taking great care of our customers, being innovative, having great technology platforms, and meeting our customers where and when they want to bank,” said Emily Robinson, COO of FirstBank.
The institution, founded in Colorado in 1963, now holds more than $19 billion in assets, has 2,900 employees, and maintains 115 locations in its home state as well as in Arizona and California.
FirstBank leverages its size and vast resources to make a positive impact on the cities and towns it serves. Its tagline is “Banking for Good,” and that goes for employees as well as customers and communities.
“That’s the compass that keeps us heading in the right direction,” Robinson said. “We’re always looking for ways to make the right decisions and to do the right things in all areas.”
FirstBank gives back through volunteerism and support for local charitable causes as well as financial literacy programs in local schools. This approach sets it apart from the big banking crowd, and, for that, we recognize FirstBank with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Investment.
Partnership with Junior Achievement Advances Financial Education in Schools
It’s commonly known that the public education system in the United States does not meet the population’s financial literacy needs. Even parents who studied at those same schools may not know how to teach their children about money management and personal responsibility. That means this important task often falls to financial institutions to fill in the gaps.
FirstBank answers that call through its partnership with Rocky Mountain Junior Achievement in Denver, Colorado. The bank maintains deep connections with the organization and is Junior Achievement’s biggest financial supporter.
“They have been a great partner for many years. Financial literacy is important to us, and that is the one organization we feel does a great job,” Robinson said. “One of the most important things we need to teach youth today is money management skills. I do think that’s missing in our school system.”
Junior Achievement’s in-school programs focus on teaching children about personal finance as well as business and economic topics. These include money management, business ethics, workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and other related subjects.
“It’s a turnkey program where they provide the materials, and you go teach these concepts to the school kids. It’s a lot of fun,” Robinson said. “They set it up for anyone to be successful as a teacher.”
Over the lifetime of their partnership, FirstBank has contributed more than $1.3 million to Junior Achievement, and the bank’s employees also donate their time in support of its mission. Internally, FirstBank holds fundraisers that include selling baked goods, hot dogs, and root beer, and hosts ping-pong tournaments, bingo games, and even pie-your-manager events — which are precisely what they sound like.
Other outreach initiatives supplement in-school education. One of these is a mobile finance park where students can learn about financial literacy. Junior Achievement also operates a Stock Market Challenge, which is a virtual simulation of the real-world stock market.
Students can use mock currency to buy stocks, manage their portfolios, and navigate market changes and twists. Though students are competing to realize the greatest overall gains, the knowledge and hands-on experience they earn can serve them for the rest of their lives.
Donations and Volunteerism Support Community Wellness
FirstBank’s charitable contributions total $65 million since 2000, but the institution contributes more than just money to communities. Its Volunteer Time Off program provides employees two additional days of paid time off (PTO) to support organizations they’re passionate about.
“We don’t direct the purpose or the type of organization they volunteer with. We let them choose,” Robinson said. “That program allows us to donate more than 40,000 volunteer hours each year and benefit over 1,000 organizations.”
FirstBank and its employees also support Colorado Gives Day, a program run by its partner organization Community First Foundation. The exciting 24-hour fundraising event encourages people to donate to their favorite nonprofits. Over the last 10 years, FirstBank has helped raise more than $230 million for worthy causes in Colorado and Arizona. Its employees can even elect to have donations deducted from their paycheck throughout the year with the total amount donated to the nonprofit of their choice on Colorado Gives Day.
“We feel proud that 70% of our employees are giving back to the community and their favorite organizations,” Robinson said. “That choice is huge. In the past, we had an employee giving program where it was directed to one organization. We found that by providing a choice, we had a lot more participation, engagement, and excitement about the program.”
And the spirit of giving back and promoting the greater good extends throughout the company — from top to bottom. Most of the bank’s officers serve on the boards of directors for local nonprofits, with many serving on more than one.
“If we give back and make the nonprofits stronger, our communities will become stronger,” Robinson said. “It’s been a great philosophy for a long time.”
Serving Customers with Convenient Financial Products
When it comes to customer satisfaction, FirstBank takes a mobile-first approach. It believes that the best way to serve its customers is through convenience, meeting needs whenever and wherever they arise.
“Everything we create, we start as a mobile app. That’s where people do their banking, and that’s where the future is,” Robinson said. “We feel like our brand and our technology allow us to compete well with any large organization.”
FirstBank’s mobile features include check deposits via photograph (or “check selfies”), easily accessible account summaries, and compatibility with Zelle and Apple Pay. Users can even log in to their accounts with FaceID and biometric credentials. The bank’s card management system allows customers to redeem rewards, freeze spending, report a card as missing or stolen and replace it anytime.
Its online banking system offers similar convenience with online bill pay, account alerts, and access to account statements. Online banking users can also deposit checks digitally and import their transaction data into Quicken and QuickBooks to ease their financial management workload.
In keeping with its Banking for Good philosophy, FirstBank leverages business lending to reinvest in its communities and local economies, particularly through large commercial real estate loans for affordable housing.
“We work with developers on tax credit projects, so we’re delivering and financing affordable housing units to individuals who earn less than 60% of the area median income,” Robinson said. “We’re really proud of the financing we do there.”
Looking to a Future of Banking for Good
With 2019 marking the 10th anniversary of Colorado Gives Day, FirstBank, its employees, and its officers plan to celebrate the best way they know how: with additional donations and promotions to encourage customers and communities to give back.
This year, FirstBank also plans to release new personal finance management tools for mobile users. The new features will make it easier for customers to create and stick to a budget, help them manage their money more carefully, and encourage financial responsibility.
From its support of local nonprofits to its investment in financial education for young people, FirstBank maintains a community-first attitude. While that may be a rare attitude to find in such a large financial institution, it’s a welcome one for customers.
“We’re going to stick with our Banking for Good mentality and continue to do the right thing for our customers, communities, and employees,” Robinson said. “If we do those things, we’ll continue to be successful.”
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