By Alison Bailin Batz
Washington Federal is one of the nation’s strongest banks. It is a full-service national banking institution that focuses on personal banking as well as business banking, commercial and equipment financing, and retail home loan and commercial real estate financing. In fact, it is one of the areas few ‘portfolio’ lenders when it comes to home loans.
“This means that all of the loans made by us remain on our books; there’s no middleman and no Wall Street firm across the country where the loans are sold,” said Mike Brown, Arizona regional president.
This business model ensures that the bank takes a long-term approach to community banking, where deposits from the community are reinvested back into the area to help local businesses and residents grow and prosper. The bank succeeds when the community thrives.
Within Arizona, the bank boasts $1.4 billion in deposits at its 31 branches statewide. It touches cities in Arizona via thriving branches in Chandler, Fountain Hills, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Green Valley, Mesa, Yuma, Phoenix, Prescott Valley, Scottsdale, Sun City, Sun City West and Tucson.
But over the past several years, even after winning the Money Magazine’s “Best Bank” in the state, Washington Federal in Arizona still got the same questions over and over from customers and the general public alike. Some of Arizona regional president Mike Brown’s favorites:
Is Washington Federal part of the federal government?
Washington Federal is a credit union headquartered in DC, right?
Is Washington Federal a prison?
“We got the message. People who don’t know us yet might not be able to tell what we do. We needed to address that challenge while making sure our bank would be clearly recognizable in all of our markets,” says Brown.
Washington Federal to WaFd Bank
As such, according to Brown, Washington Federal adopted its longtime nickname, WaFd Bank, as its trade name.
“It tells people we are a bank and is an abbreviation of our current name. We pronounce it Wah-Fed,” says Brown. “WaFd Bank aligns with our NASDAQ ticker symbol, which is WAFD. WAFDbank is also our name on social media.”
Along with the change came an entirely new logo as well.
The new logo is created out of eight interlocking W’s, recognizing their Washington state roots and symbolizing how their branches across now eight states are linked together as a team across the markets they serve – bankers, clients and communities working together to fuel economic growth and strengthen neighborhoods.
“Customers will start to see changes in the digital arena and on the website very soon, including new email signatures, signage and other advertising materials throughout 2020,” says Brown, noting WaFd Bank is innovating every day, but still remains a friendly, accessible brand.
And a truly local one.
WaFd opened its first bank in Arizona in the 1990s. After measured and steady growth, they took a massive leap in 2014 by naming banking veteran Mike Brown as its first-ever Arizona regional bank president.
His Arizona story begins back in 2005, when he and his wife moved to the northeast Valley.
At first, the Valley was too hot for the Browns. Quite literally.
“It all happened so fast,” says Brown, referring to an actual fire that erupted in his home just months after he moved in while he, his family and dogs were all inside.
Knocked down – actually physically knocked down by the blast of the fire – but never out, Brown had a decision to make once he got his family out safe.
“Do we invest here, meaning starting over effectively homeless, or do we cut our losses and move on?” says Brown, who stayed, re-building his home and life while building his banking career in Arizona.
By 2012, Brown was ready for a new investment.
Enter then-Washington Federal, whose tagline just so happens to be “Invested Here.”
“We can all talk the talk,” says Brown, who initially joined the bank to help launch a national equipment finance division. “But, I liked that this brand – like me – really walked the walk when it came to investing in our local communities.”
In 2014 when Brown accepted the role of Arizona regional president, he made it his mission to be “invested here” over the long term to help his team be best poised to similarly be invested in their customers and communities as authentically as possible.
“This was never more evident than in the weeks of 2019, as government workers faced massive hardships as a result of the shutdown,” says Brown.
On Jan. 15, 2019, Washington Federal announced a 90-day interest-free loan designed to help workers through the shutdown period for an amount equal to the net take home pay for up to six missed paychecks.
Over the next two weeks, their Arizona team worked 14-hour days to fulfill these loans. Of the tens of millions Washington Federal loaned during that time, more than half were in Arizona.
“And that is really only the first in a long line of work we have been doing in recent years,” says Brown.
According to Brown, their work has been making a direct impact on the economic development of Arizona as well as on the lives of individuals statewide.
“We’ve funded projects to expand a local airport, built safe housing, added dorms and other needed buildings for a university, and so much more,” says Brown.
He also launched a community outreach program in 2015 called ‘WaFd Focus on Arizona,’ wherein he empowers each and every member of our company in Arizona to work together to donate time and fundraise for causes they personally care about. This also includes dedicated work-day time spent on financial literacy outreach at elementary, middle and high schools statewide.
Finally, WaFd Bank Arizona walks the walk with real financial commitments to those who need it in Arizona via the WaFd Bank Foundation.
“The mission of the WaFd Bank Foundation is to facilitate direct donations to community-based nonprofits that are serving the needs of low and moderate-income individuals,” says Brown. “The foundation has granted more than $200,000 to Arizona nonprofits in recent years. Nationally, the grant program has exceeded more than $1 million in donations in states where it has a footprint since its founding in 2008.”
Among the local organizations that have benefited from the Foundation in recent years are: Care Fund, UMOM New Day Centers, Habitat for Humanity, Central Arizona Shelter Services, International Rescue Committee, Pima County Community Land Trust, Right Turn for Yuma Veterans, Boys & Girls Clubs statewide, YMCA, Youth on their Own, Junior Achievement of Arizona, Chicanos Por La Causa and Save the Family.
Notably, this year alone, the local team has volunteered over 2,200 hours and donated nearly $150,000 in grants.
“Arizona’s continued economic development is not happening in a vacuum. It is happening when those who can, ‘do,’” says Brown. “I am ready – we are ready – to ‘do’ more. Are you?”
For more information, or to view a list of local branches and bankers, visit www.wafd.com.