Business for a Better World: Armed Forces Bank

As published by the Chicago Daily Herald Biz. Ledger October 10,2022

The Daily Herald profiled Armed Forces Bank (AFB) as a Business for a Better World. Interviewing Tom McLean, SVP, Regional Military Executive for AFB, he had the following to say:

Armed Forces Bank is a full-service military bank operating 23 banking centers around the country. We are the largest bank by number of locations on military installations.

AFB offers what many consider as the traditional banking services. This includes deposit products such as rewards checking, savings accounts, money market, certificates of deposit and individual retirement accounts. On the lending side, products include our personal military loans, home equity lines of credit, secured credit builder card. We also provide mortgages, with a focus on VA home loans.

The bank also has many affinity relationships with other military organizations. These include A Million Thanks, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Military Housing Network, and many more. AFB has earned multiple Bank of the Year Awards and the Designation of Savings Excellence from America Saves. AFB also received the Community Impact Award for the Access Loan program.

As a founding member of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), AFB is also committed to hiring military spouses.

In the rest of the interview you can learn more about how Armed Forces Bank gives back to the community. Tom also discusses AFB's diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEIB) program. He wraps up the interview talking about their newly released "Militarily Speaking" podcast.

Q: Describe your company.

A: Armed Forces Bank (AFB) is a full-service military bank established in 1907. The company operates 23 banking centers around the country, operating in 13 states and is the largest bank by number of locations on military installations.

AFB, along with its sister bank, Academy Bank, is family-owned by the Dickinson Financial Corporation (DFC). AFB offers traditional banking services, including deposit products such as checking, savings, money market, certificates of deposit and individual retirement accounts. On the lending side, products include the access loan (an unsecured loan designed to meet the unexpected financial needs of our clients), home equity lines of credit, secured credit cards and mortgages, with a focus on VA lending.

The bank has many affinity relationships with organizations such as A Million Thanks, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Military Housing Network and many more. AFB has earned multiple Bank of the Year Awards and the Designation of Savings Excellence from America Saves.  AFB also received the Community Impact Award for the Access Loan program.                                                   

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: We plan to hire additional staff in the next year. In retail banking, we see some turnover since we hire a lot of military spouses, and they tend to be stationed at one installation for 2-3 years and then they PCS (permanent change of station). If a military spouse relocates to another military installation where we operate a banking center, we look to retain his or her employment with AFB.

As a founding member of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), AFB is also committed to hiring spouses.

We will continue to look for opportunities to make capital investments in technology to continue to improve the client experience through digital banking and process improvements.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: As most banks would comment, the economy and the interest rate environment are always front and center when it comes to strategic planning, marketing initiatives, product focus and quality assets on the balance sheet. Specifically, we have an eye toward how this macroeconomic environment impacts the individual military families directly. With higher prices across the board and the fixed income household budget, the effects of our current conditions will impact military families and their day-to-day finances.

We continue to see fraud in this business and do our best to stay ahead of cybersecurity issues and threats.

The mortgage landscape has changed dramatically in the last 12 months as 30-year fixed rates have more than doubled. While the mortgage business is very cyclical, we are anxious to see how the market unfolds in the next couple of years.                                           

Competition is fierce when acquiring new business, especially capturing households and deposits. The financial services industry has witnessed a large influx of fintech companies and an array of payment solutions and digital solutions that have ramped up due to the changes in consumer behavior.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: The emergence of Fintechs and the innovation coming to the market. There are some formidable players in this space and the solutions being developed daily are creating new opportunities, new efficiencies, new products and new partnerships that are exciting.

Q: What does your company do regarding DE&I (diversity, equity & inclusion)?

A: Our diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEIB) program is critical to our culture. Though relatively new, with its beginnings in the 2020 social justice movement, the program is well-rounded, led by a cross-functional team of associates, and focuses on talent, marketplace, operations, community and awareness. Last year alone, the DEIB team started a vendor diversity program, trained all associates in implicit bias, began a career connections program to help diverse talent advance their careers, created shared language training to ensure all associates know how to kindly address others who may hold different dimensions of diversity such as LGBTQIA+ individuals or individuals with disabilities, supported the implementation of the "BankOn" certified account, supported lowered fees on banking products, and sponsored important community partnerships like those with the Bloch School Mentorship Program, KC Scholars and BankWork$, just to name a few achievements.

Q: Does your company donate time or money to any philanthropic causes? If so, what causes?

A: Armed Forces Bank supports local philanthropies through sponsorships and volunteer efforts. These organizations include Fisher House Foundation, Armed Services YMCA and Second Harvest. In October our entire organization is participating in the Days of Giving and we will support local food banks, facilitate food drives and collect donated items for food pantries. In the Great Lakes market, we are supporting the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

In addition, AFB is the official financial services partner for A Million Thanks, a national organization that collects and distributes letters of support and thanks directly to active duty, reserve and veteran military men and women around the world.

One of the most admirable qualities of DFC overall, Armed Forces Bank's parent company, is their commitment to the community, reflected by the millions of dollars donated to charitable organizations focused on health care, arts and culture, human services, community and economic development, and youth programs.

The Dickinson family is a source of pride and inspiration for the entire company across the U.S.

DFC has supported many organizations over the years such as Children's Mercy Hospital, Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, Nurses Appreciation Week and others.

Q: Does your company do anything else to make your community better?

A: AFB takes great pride in giving back to the community. At Naval Station Great Lakes, we have donated items to the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center to support veterans. Each year, we sponsor a dinner for those sailors who stay on base during the holidays. During May we honor Military Appreciation Month and do random acts of kindness to support service members and their families by paying for lunches, handing out gift cards, paying for a tank of gas and a multitude of other ways. In addition, AFB at Naval Station Great Lakes was recognized by the Department of the Navy as "Distinguished Bank of the Year" for 2021. Nominated by the command leadership, the award recognized AFB's leadership in serving military service members and their families with a vast array of banking services, installation support and financial education. AFB's HERO and Access Loan programs are two of the innovations that help military personnel establish roots.

 AFB was the only bank this year to earn the Military Saves "Designation of Savings Excellence," by the Association of Military Banks. The award highlights banks and credit unions that made an extraordinary effort to promote positive saving behaviors and took actions to improve the financial stability of those in their community. The Military Saves program is designed to help service members and their families save money, reduce debt and build wealth. It is the nation's only award focused on helping Americans improve their financial stability.

 AFB is a founding partner of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. MSEP connects military spouses with hundreds of partner-employers committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses for long-term, portable careers with advancement opportunities.

 AFB is a leader within the U.S. Army's Training with Industry program, a yearlong training program with AFB for one Officer and one Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army Finance and Comptroller Corps. The TWI program is designed to take selected officers out of the military environment and expose them to the latest commercial business practices, organizational structures and cultures, technology development processes and corporate management techniques.

Financial education -- AFB facilitates workshops and briefings with service members and their families on topics related to the home buying process, budgeting, responsible credit, savings and money management.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: "This is Who We Are."

Whether we are making strategic decisions about the direction of Armed Forces Bank or making daily decisions in our markets, our focus is always doing the right thing by the military families we have the privilege to serve. It is the fiber of our being and it all readily falls under our mantra "This is Who We Are."

Q: What is one interesting fact about your company that most people may not know?

A: Recently launched the "Militarily Speaking" podcast, which is dedicated to helping the military community navigate finances, as well as military life overall. Militarily Speaking is available on popular podcast platforms, including Audible, Spotify, Amazon Music and Blubrry, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. The podcast lasts 25 to 30 minutes and airs live every other week on Wednesday evenings.

Eighty-five percent of our retail team have a direct connection to the military as veterans, guard members, reservists, dependents or military spouses. In most cases, we have literally walked a mile in the shoes of our client base and understand the uniqueness of being a military family.