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SPECIAL REPORT 2016

THE REGION’S BUSINESS MAGAZINE

In Touch with Tucson


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BizCOMMUNITY

Culture of Accountability

Vantage West – In Touch with Local Communities

IMAGES: COURTESY VANTAGE WEST CREDIT UNION

By Jay Gonzales Going above and beyond banking is the aim of Vantage West in the services it delivers to its members and the impact it has on its communities. Homegrown and founded 60 years ago, Vantage West Credit Union is a thriving company that began by serving a niche market in Tucson, then branched out across the state of Arizona with plans to expand even farther. Robert D. “Bob” Ramirez, Vantage West president and CEO since 2000, has a number in mind – $6 billion in assets – when he defines where he wants the credit union to be in the relatively near future. It’s understandable that a big number defines the company’s success – since this is a business of numbers, whether it’s dollars or membership. Behind all the numbers is a way of doing things that has moved Vantage West from its birth 60 years ago as the DMAFB Federal Credit Union primarily serving base employees to a statechartered credit union with branches in four Arizona counties, serving diverse members across the globe via online 70 BizTucson

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and mobile channels. Under Ramirez’s steady leadership, the vision is for expansion beyond their current markets. “To say I want to be $6 billion really means I want to have a company that’s exceptional in terms of member service – and as a result of that we reach a certain threshold,” Ramirez said. “Whether it’s $6 billion or $10 billion, the idea is you get there by providing exception-

I want this company to be financially stable, well-capitalized and have systems in place that deliver exceptional service to our members – service that stands out, that is the envy of our competition.

Robert D. Ramirez President & CEO Vantage West Credit Union –

al service to the membership.” Although Vantage West has been celebrating its 60th anniversary during 2015, “this financial institution is in its prime,” said Board Chairman Charles Matthewson in the company’s last annual report. The company began to hit its stride in 1999 at the ripe age of 44 when it was solicited to consider acquiring the troubled Saguaro Credit Union, which had been serving University of Arizona employees and students at the corner of East Speedway and Euclid Avenue. According to news reports, Saguaro had been seized by regulators for making risky investments. That acquisition, Ramirez said, put the credit union on a path to ultimately apply for the state charter, change its name to Vantage West in 2006, then continue with more mergers and acquisitions to accumulate its current level of assets at about $1.5 billion. Today, Vantage West has branches in Pima, Maricopa, Pinal and Cochise counties and serves members across the United States and around the world. www.BizTucson.com


Robert D. Ramirez President & CEO Vantage West Credit Union

Serving local communities

“We aim to be the financial institution of the people in the communities we serve,” said Jill Casey, assistant VP for communications and content marketing. “We’re trying to build up the communities around us to create mutually beneficial partnerships.” The corporate culture at Vantage West is “people helping people.” And therein lies one of the primary differences between a credit union and a bank. Where big banks are in the business of making profits for shareholders and others, a credit union like Vantage West is member-driven and memberowned. It aims to make a profit that it invests back into the communities where it operates. When Vantage West uses its profits to improve the health of the communities it serves and supports, Casey said, the company benefits because it helps create more members, both business and consumers, who then need the financial services that Vantage West provides – checking and savings accounts, www.BizTucson.com

car loans, credit cards, business loans, mortgages and investment services. “One of the benefits we have is local decision-making,” Casey said. “This is the home office. This is where we fund the consumer and business loans alike. There’s a benefit to doing business with someone you know. “We’re a very large credit union. But we’re not so large or so far removed from our communities that we’re out of touch with what the needs are in terms of how we can help members build and strengthen their businesses and also where it’s important for us to give back.” One of those give-back areas is financial literacy, where again, Vantage West provides a needed service in the community. The domino effect is that when they provide that service, potential future members are created. “Something that is really important to us is financial literacy, financial readiness – because when you go all the way back to what makes a community viable, it’s that early learning and teach-

ing of financial literacy,” Casey said. “We have a financial literacy program that we’re actually delivering. We’re taking it into Boys & Girls Clubs. We’re taking it out into our community. It’s something we’re doing hands-on. “The stronger and more financially viable our communities are, it positions us for more growth. And as we grow we’re able to deliver higher levels of service and additional products and services.” continued on page 72 >>>

By the numbers • $1.5 billion in assets • 135,000 members in all 50 states • 3rd largest credit union in Arizona • 4 Arizona counties • 17 locations • 440+ employees • 60 years of service

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Empowering employees

That philosophy provides multiple benefits for the company as it is the employees who work in the community, willingly and eagerly, Ramirez said. That involvement also makes it easier for employees to understand they have a voice in the company, whether it’s through work in the community or in the office making key decisions about the business. Ramirez is the big spirit that leads and inspires the staff in everything they do – across the spectrum from cyber security and account services to loans, new technologies and corporate giving.

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“When I took over I wanted to make sure the company was a company that had a culture where employees felt important, that they had a say in what was going on,” Ramirez said. “Our culture of accountability basically does that for us. It promotes speaking up to provide and give feedback. It’s really important that employees are heard because you learn more things by asking questions.” So the $6 billion question is: On a scale of 1 to 10, where does the CEO think his company rates overall? “I’d say we’re seven and a half to eight,” Ramirez said. “Can we do better? Absolutely. I think we need to invest more in technology. We need to become

more nimble. We need to have more locations in the Phoenix market and have more of a physical presence. We need to have a more robust sales culture to really take care of member needs. I think those are some key items.” Anything else? “I want this company to be financially stable, well-capitalized and to have systems in place that deliver exceptional service to our members – service that stands out, that’s the envy of our competition. I want to be known as a company that’s a good community partner that can be relied on to help out when there’s a need.”

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PHOTOS: COURTESY VANTAGE WEST CREDIT UNION

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Robert D. Ramirez

President & CEO Vantage West Credit Union

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BizLEADERSHIP

Building a Company Ramirez Leads by Helping People

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

By David Pittman Robert D. Ramirez, president and CEO of Vantage West Credit Union, has spent his life building things. As a young boy, he loved building model airplanes and model cars. At the age of 5 he recalls going to work with his father, employed by a locally owned Capin Mercantile Corp. department store in Nogales. Young Robert’s first job was working at that same store assembling bicycles, tricycles and other toys. Since graduating from Nogales High School and the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Ramirez has built an extraordinarily successful career.

He has been a driving force in building the largest credit union in Southern Arizona and the third largest in the state. And he has helped build a better Tucson, not only by investing in the community, but also by giving back through charitable, philanthropic and civic endeavors. Ramirez has lived the American dream, rising from humble beginnings to become the leader of a $1.5-billion company. Inside Ramirez’s corner office at Vantage West corporate headquarters, a framed “Eisenhower” jacket hangs from a wall behind continued on page 76 >>> Winter 2016

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his desk. The jacket was worn by Ramirez’s father, a U.S. fighter pilot who flew many successful missions over Germany during World War II. “My father went into the Army Air Corps when he was 18. He married my mom, they were childhood sweethearts,” Ramirez said. “I was one of four kids. My father didn’t finish high school, but he was probably the smartest man I ever knew. He worked very long hours and instilled a strong work ethic in me. He taught me it was OK to work hard and have fun working hard.” However, Ramirez said it was his mother, who did graduate from high school, who was his “mentor and lifetime coach.” He said she taught him basic math and tutored him during his early schooling. “My mom taught me to never, ever give up,” Ramirez said. “She told all us kids that we were going to college, and all four of us are college graduates. I was taught the importance of education and that the more you know, the more you’re worth.” After graduating from UA in 1976, Ramirez returned to work in Nogales as the controller of Capin Mercantile, the family-owned retail operation where he worked while growing up. After 2½ years there, he moved to an accounting position at M.M. Sundt Construction Co. in Tucson, and passed his CPA exam. In 1985, he took a job at Vantage West, then known as DM Federal Credit Union, as controller. “My first day at the credit union, I’m waiting for my boss, the CFO,” Ramirez said. “He comes in 30 minutes late, drops a set of keys on the table and says, ‘I just resigned, good luck to you,’ and walks out. Within a half hour of starting my job, I became acting CFO.” Six months later, while the credit union was still in search of a permanent CFO, federal banking regulators hit the organization with a poor performance rating. “The former CEO was upset. He wanted to let everybody go,” Ramirez recalled. “I said, ‘Give me three months and I’ll get back your superior rating.’ He responded that if I did that, he would double my salary and make me CFO permanently.” Fast forward three months: The reg76 BizTucson

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ulators are back and they restore the institution’s sterling rating, resulting in Ramirez receiving a well-earned raise and becoming the official CFO. Ramirez has now been at Vantage West 31 years, nearly 16 as president and CEO. During that time, the company has been profitable every year but one. In 2008 – when a cataclysmic financial crisis struck the nation – Vantage West had losses of $10 million. In response to the severe economic downturn, businesses across the country were reducing workforces, cutting benefits and salaries, and slashing overhead in an attempt to survive another day. Ramirez bucked conventional wisdom and convinced his board of directors to support his plan “to grow our way into profitability, as opposed to trying to save ourselves into profitability.” “The idea was simple, it’s all about

Bob is a fearless, impactful, inspirational and compassionate leader. He is always looking at innovation and the next best thing for the members, the employees and the community.

– Jill Casey Assistant VP Communications & Content Marketing Vantage West Credit Union

people, and the most important people are my employees,” Ramirez said. “I could not expect them to be motivated and focused if I cut their salaries and benefits. The same was true for my members; I couldn’t expect them to frequent our branches unless I had highly trained employees and the latest technology to care for their financial needs.” No workforce reductions were made and salaries and employee benefits actually increased. Ramirez’s strategy proved successful. At the beginning of 2008, Vantage West had $948 million in total assets and 322 employees. By the end of 2009, the company had surpassed the billion-dollar mark with $1.07 billion in assets and had 323 employees. Today, the company has assets of $1.57 billion and 440 employees. It’s no exaggeration to say Ramirez is revered by his employees. “Bob is a fearless, impactful, inspirational and compassionate leader,” said Jill Casey, assistant VP of communications and content marketing for Vantage West. “He is always looking at innovation and the next best thing for the members, the employees and the community.” Examples of Vantage West efforts to benefit Southern Arizona go on and on, as do Ramirez’s volunteer efforts on behalf of civic and charitable nonprofit boards. Those boards include the Pima Community College Foundation, Tucson Metro Chamber, El Rio Health Center, DM50, San Miguel High School, Sun Corridor Inc., and Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Ramirez also is chair of the 2015-2016 United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona fundraising campaign. Tony Penn, president and CEO of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, said Ramirez was selected as campaign chairman because he’s “a driven leader who has demonstrated great skills in organizing and inspiring people. I’ve had the good fortune of working with Bob on a number of occasions and he’s influenced me personally.” Ramirez will take over as chairman of the board of the Tucson Metro Chamber in April. “Bob is a terrific guy. I don’t know if there are words to describe how great a guy he is,” said Mike Varney, president www.BizTucson.com

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BizLEADERSHIP and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber. “He is engaged and energetic and he wants to build a better Tucson. He is all about constant improvement.” Ramirez said the most rewarding part of his job is “helping people with financial challenges and making a real difference in their lives.” He said what he likes least is an overly burdensome regulatory environment that adds unneeded costs. Ramirez has received a bevy of awards and designations including the Eller College Associate of the Year (2004), Tucson Hispanic Chamber Business Man of the Year (2009), Outstanding Community Leader from the Eller Hispanic Honorary (2014), and this year he was named Professional of the Year by the Mountain West Credit Union Association. In November, Ramirez was inducted into the CUES Hall of Fame for his years of commitment and dedication to the credit union industry. He was honored as Father of the Year in 2010 by Father’s Day Council Tucson in recognition of his work to raise funds to fight type 1 diabetes. “My mother died from complications

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of diabetes,” Ramirez said. “We didn’t even know she had it because she kept it a secret.” There is more evidence of Ramirez’s remarkable abilities as a father written on the corner of a white board in his office. It is a note from his daughter, Gabriella, 19, that she wrote in August just before leaving Tucson to attend Regis University in Denver. The note says, “My dad is the best dad ever! P.S. He is awesome.” It is signed “Gabbie R.” Ramirez and his wife, Katharine A.

Ramirez, are proud of their daughter, a recent honors graduate of Salpointe Catholic High School. She was one of two graduating seniors to receive the Carmelite Medal, which honors a male and female student for consistently demonstrating the ideals of the Christian spirit of Salpointe. Ramirez also made a point to thank Katharine, his wife of 25 years who he also refers to as his girlfriend of 28 years, for her passion, commitment and dedication in helping him work through the many opportunities and challenges in growing Vantage West. Ramirez has never forgotten where he came from. “My mother used to say, ‘You have to give before you can get.’ I believe that,” Ramirez said. “If we help people find work and get people back on their feet, what do they need? Checking accounts, debit and credit cards, car loans and home loans – and who offers that? It’s a win/win. Helping people reach their financial goals helps us. It is part of my job, it’s in my DNA.”

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BizBANKING

From Zero to $106 Million

Business Banking a Boon for Vantage West By Mary Minor Davis When René Almazan, chief lending officer for Vantage West Credit Union, was brought into the company in 2003 to develop the Business Banking division, he asked company president Robert D. Ramirez what was in place as a starting point. “He said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and went over to his printer and pulled out a plain sheet of paper,” Almazan recalled. “It was basically a blank slate. What an opportunity.” Almazan and Carol Smith, now retired, spent the next year building the systems and infrastructure that created the company’s Business Banking services. In 2005, they issued the first business loan for $20,000. “We were very excited. We thought we had arrived,” Almazan said. Today, Vantage West has more than $106 million in business loans on the books with growth and momentum exploding in the last 24 months as the economy continues to recover. The leadership of VP of Business Banking Jim Hanson was instrumental in the division’s success during that time frame. Businesses make up more than 2,500 of the 135,000+ members Vantage West has nationwide. This year, the credit union saw a 52 percent increase in business loans, up from the 33 percent growth last year. Almazan credits Vantage West’s success to several factors. “We started with a focus on owneroccupied businesses and made a point of growing slowly,” Almazan said. When the recession hit in 2007, he said, they also started looking at commercial real estate, which was holding stronger in the market. Since then, they’ve focused on that area in growing 78 BizTucson

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their portfolio. “We have a great support staff to complement our sales staff which helps tremendously,” Almazan said. Vantage West is tops in deposits among credit unions in Arizona and is behind only the so-called “big three” banks overall. The other distinguishing characteristic, Almazan said, is the “fast, flexible and local” philosophy of the credit union. “We’re truly local. All of the decisions are made here,” he said, adding that it allows Vantage West to work with a business and tailor products and services to create success. Dr. Robert Hom of Tucson Central Pediatrics said these factors were important to him when deciding to work with Vantage West to refinance his practice’s building loan in 2014. “We found Melissa Galus, our business banker, to be most attentive to our needs and concerns, at the time of our decision,” Hom said. “The proposed terms for the refinance were very competitive and beneficial for our practice. We also liked that Vantage West is based in Arizona and has a small, ‘hometown’ feel.” Since then, Hom said, Tucson Central Pediatrics has moved all of its financial services to Vantage West, including its business checking and savings accounts, business credit cards and merchant services. “Working with Vantage West was the best financial decision for us,” Hom said. “The banking team helped make it a very smooth transition. We prefer to take care of the children, and let others who are more knowledgeable take care of our banking needs.”

Almazan said he finds great reward in what he does, especially when hearing from members like Hom that his team is providing personal service and finding the right tools to meet members’ needs. “It’s nice to see local business people get ahead in life,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to be able to help people do what they want to do. It’s truly a joy for me.” Growing the Business Banking team has been a priority to ensure the right services and the right expertise are available to businesses of all types and sizes. Now with a staff of 11, Almazan said, “we’ve come a long way from our simple start and we remain committed to serving our members’ needs.” Tony Terry, president and co-founder of Gaslight Theatre, said the quality of the service provided by the business bankers is the most important factor for him as a member of Vantage West. The credit union handles all of the theatre’s payroll services, including direct deposit for the 200 Gaslight employees. “I can’t overemphasize how important it is for my staff to feel comfortable (with Vantage West) because they deal with them every day,” Terry said, adding that the payroll services for the theatre can be an “enormous headache. Our business banker just takes it in stride. And my employees couldn’t be happier.” Terry noted Vantage West went above and beyond, offering to look at the company’s mortgages, and was able to develop a plan that allowed them to nearly pay off their mortgage through a competitive refinancing review. “They really are the bank that helps,” he said. www.BizTucson.com


PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

PHOTO: TOM SPITZ PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

Tony Terry President & Co-founder Gaslight Theatre

Dr. Robert Hom Tucson Central Pediatrics Going forward, Vantage West will be looking to add more staff to the Business Banking division to focus on the growth they are experiencing and to ensure service levels continue. Almazan said they frequently receive calls from business bankers in the industry who want to join the Vantage West team. “That’s probably the most flattering thing that can happen to you, when people from our competition call and ask, ‘How can I get in?’ To me, that’s validation that we’re doing the right thing.” Biz www.BizTucson.com

René Almazan

Chief Lending Officer Vantage West Credit Union

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BizTECHNOLOGY

Quantum Leaps in Technology Mott Learned Business from the Vault Up By Jay Gonzales The sign on the door says credit union, but for Steve Mott, senior VP of technology for Vantage West Credit Union, the expectations for his company’s technology and security are no less than that of a bank or other major financial institution. “We all face the same types of challenges,” Mott said. “Keeping our members’ data secure is what it’s all about while still allowing the convenience that everyone wants and has become accustomed to. “Everyone expects everything 24/7 and nothing can fail. (Members) never want anything to be down, and all of it needs to be protected. You can’t afford a breach because everyone’s trust is in you.” The complexity of managing banking technology today is not lost on Mott, who’s worked through massive advances in technology. “When I started, you had a mainframe and dumb terminals,” he said, referring to the computer technology of that time as if it were ancient history. “Now you have PCs and laptops and mobile devices and Wi-Fi.” Today, ATMs, 24-hour access, online banking, mobile phones and apps are a routine part of the business. That Mott is even in this position is a story in itself. He began at Vantage West in 1981 “filing folders in the vault as a high school student.” He worked his way around and up through the ranks as a teller, a loan officer, directing 80 BizTucson

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the branches – “I’ve done pretty much all the jobs within the credit union” – while going to college and eventually joining the executive team in charge of one of the essential departments that makes Vantage West go.

Keeping our members’ data secure is what it’s all about… You can’t afford a breach because everyone’s trust is in you.

– Steve Mott Senior VP of Technology Vantage West Credit Union

Mott knows that being the credit union around the corner with a local home office does not buy Vantage West any slack when it comes to the services it needs to provide for its 135,000 members. Members want all the accoutrements of a bank when they sign up with Vantage West – including security – and they want to know those services are at their disposal without thinking about what it takes to provide them. “We have to be able to offer all of the

technologies the consumer expects and wants,” Mott said. “When members take a card and put it in the machine, they don’t understand the encryption and all of the security that’s gone on in the background. They just know they put their card in, they put in the PIN, and they say, ‘I want 20 bucks’ and magically 20 bucks pop out.” Vantage West has its own ideas about where it’s headed with technology – and watching the large banks helps the company keep up with the latest and greatest offerings available. Mott said industry partners and vendors do that by exchanging information and new ideas. But he goes a step further with his own personal information gathering – by keeping a personal account with a large bank to get a firsthand look at what they offer their customers. “I say, ‘OK, they’re doing it right. How can we mimic that and build an online experience like that – but better?’ ” The next big thing – at least for Vantage West, Mott said, is full-service kiosks similar to ATMs but that do more than the standard machines, where banking generally is limited to deposits, cash withdrawals, transfers and checking balances. Mott sees this as “tellerless” banking and “the bank of the future.” After researching members’ needs and looking at industry trends, the company moved to pilot a new concept and added full-service kiosks at the branch www.BizTucson.com


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Steve Mott

Senior VP of Technology Vantage West Credit Union

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

at North First Avenue and East Wetmore Road. Like all good pilots, they quickly learned how to better service the members and started to make improvements in the service model. Mott said Vantage West went to work to redesign the technology – they are now in the prototype phase – beginning with writing new computer code to allow these new machines to interface with the database where more customer information is available, which will allow the machines to do more. “In the future, I can put in a check and cash it to the penny because it has a coin dispenser,” Mott said. “It allows you to update your address, add a joint owner, stuff you don’t normally do at an ATM. It can do everything an ATM can do – but because it’s talking directly to the core – basically the sky’s the limit.” And with a branch near the University of Arizona, Mott said there’s a readymade clientele for the technology. “Think of the people who use that branch. They’re not afraid of technology. They love technology,” he said. “We want to get them on the self-serve kiosks, make it fun, make it interactive – but number one, make sure it’s secure – and allow the members to go to the next level with that self-service. “There is this image that banks are sophisticated and up-to-date with technology and that credit unions are old and clunky.” Not so. “We’re out to change all that.” Biz

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BizCOMMUNITY

Culture Celebrates Employees Happy Workers Bring Happy Results for Vantage West By David Pittman Employees at Vantage West Credit Union have a great deal to celebrate. So it was appropriate when the company billed its latest quarterly employee gathering a “celebration,” rather than a meeting. Indeed, the Oct. 28 breakfast event at The Westin La Paloma Resort, attended by nearly all of Vantage West’s 440 employees, featured more than a buffet of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon and a program showcasing company successes and employee accomplishments. It was a festive occasion that included widespread smiles, jokes, laughs, highfives, music, placard waving and the exuberance of employees happy to be where they are, working for a solid, stable company with outstanding leadership and values. People enjoy working at Vantage West and they aren’t shy about saying so. “I love working here,” said Danielle Bridges, VP of consumer lending for Vantage West. “Every day when I get in my car and drive to work I feel lucky, because I know everyone doesn’t feel that way.” During this celebration, an employee’s 20th work anniversary was recog82 BizTucson

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nized, positive data collected in a recent employee engagement survey was unveiled, early results of the company’s United Way Employee Giving Campaign were announced, and CFO Scott Odom provided an impressive financial report. “Our deposit growth is increasing at a 16 percent pace this year,” he said. “On the lending side, we are also exceeding our goal at a 13 percent growth rate. At the close of 2015, our annual profit will probably be around $12 million.” In both 2014 and 2015, Vantage West received an A+ rating from DepositAccounts.com for achieving the highest level of fiscal stability. The ratings, which evaluate all 14,000 federally insured banks and credit unions in the country, place Vantage West in the top 10 percent of banking institutions nationally for financial health. Leading the recent employee celebration was longtime Vantage West President & CEO Robert D. Ramirez. Vantage West workers widely view him as an articulate, thoughtful, competent, visionary and charismatic leader who pushes the entire organization to pursue excellence and looks after the interests of his employees.

During the employee celebration, the largest applause came when it was announced there would be no increase in employee health care contributions for the fifth year in a row. Last year, Vantage West was recognized as “One of the Country’s Best Credit Unions to Work For” as part of surveys conducted by Best Companies Group and Credit Union Journal. Only 30 of the approximately 6,500 credit unions nationally received the honor. The employee surveys measured workplace attitudes and experiences, along with company policies, practices and demographics. “Our core goal is to serve our membership, but along the way it is important for us to have happy, long-tenured employees to create an environment that is most beneficial to our membership,” said Odom. “There is a strong focus on employee engagement and providing a good level of benefits and competitive salaries. It is a nice environment to work in.” Employees of the credit union are also steeped in a company culture that encourages them to rise above their own circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve www.BizTucson.com


Jill Casey Assistant VP Communications & Content Marketing

Charles Matthewson Board Chair Vantage West

Allan J. S VP Mawitalski rketing

Vantage West’s Cultural Beliefs • Speak Up – I speak up, give and receive feedback and act on it. • Embrace Culture – See it! Solve it! Do it! Share it! • Expand Boundaries – I create loyalty by thinking beyond today. • Act On Fact – I act based on concrete facts to do the right thing. • Provide Solutions – I provide easy access to our core products and services to meet our members’ financial needs. • Reach Out – I promote teamwork, collaboration and alignment throughout our organization. • Own It – I’m empowered by taking ownership of our key results. www.BizTucson.com

Scott Odom CFO

“Vantage West employees are committed to taking care of our members, and beyond that, they are committed to taking care of each other,” Ramirez said. “Our employees make conscious, disciplined choices to be great every day, and that reflects in the service they provide.” In addition to financial stability, fair wages, quality benefits, enlightened management and a positive company culture, Vantage West employees can take pride in working for an organization that gives back to the community and provides them opportunities to participate in those charitable efforts. Vantage West operates a program that allows its workers to take paid leave from their regular job for 16 hours every year to work for the charitable group of their choice. Workers also can nominate a charity of their choice to receive $2,000 grants from the company. At least 10 charities a year receive those awards. As a company, Vantage West goes much farther than that in giving back to the communities it serves. Beneficiaries of Vantage West’s Commitment to Community Campaign include Pima Council on Aging, Boys & Girls Clubs

of Tucson, Children’s Miracle Network, Arizona Fisher House, El Rio Community Health Center, Junior Achievement, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, and Tucson Police Foundation. That is only a short list of the 150 charities that receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the credit union annually. In its commitment to giving back, Vantage West gave about $70,000 to the First Impressions Project, a Tucson Metro Chamber effort to beautify a more than half mile stretch of Tucson Boulevard at the gateway of Tucson International Airport. The project was completed about a year ago. In 2014, Vantage West donated $100,000 to build a Fisher House facility on the campus of the Tucson VA Medical Center. The project, now nearly completed, will provide a free place for military families to stay while visiting patients in the hospital. “I tell employees and prospective employees,” Ramirez said, “if they love helping people and love working in an environment that is very challenging and ever changing, Vantage West is the place for them. We make working hard look easy.”

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PHOTOS: BRENT G. MATHIS & COURTESY VANTAGE WEST CREDIT UNION

key results. Over the last four years, Ramirez and his executive team regularly met and brought in a facilitator to identify what aspects of the company’s culture best defined Vantage West and should be encouraged and promoted. The company’s cultural beliefs, which have been formalized, were emphasized often at the employee celebration.

Stephanie Chavez Director of Marketing


PHOTOS: BRENT G. MATHIS

BizCOMMUNITY

Photos from left – Visiting credit union dignitaries and distinguished guests, including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Enrique Gomez, Consul Adjunct of Mexico in Tucson, gather with President & CEO Robert D. Ramirez to raise the Juntos Avanzamos Flag; Ruben Moreno from Mariachi Luz de Luna; Vantage West Board Chair Charles Matthewson officially raises the Juntos Avanzamos flag with a hand from Enrique Gomez, Consul Adjunct of Mexico in Tucson.

Capturing a Segment Growing Hispanic Community Spells Opportunity By David Pittman Recognizing that a growing population of current and potential Hispanic customers is a trend, Vantage West Credit Union is dedicated to capturing as much of that business segment as possible. “At Vantage West, we recognize that in order for our local economy to thrive, it is important for businesses to grow,” said Vantage West President & CEO Robert D. Ramirez. “Likewise, it is important to recognize the sources of current growth and most likely sources of future growth. Reflecting on the past decade and looking at the current trends in our membership analysis, we see significant growth that is attributable to the Hispanic market.” Of Vantage West’s more than 135,000 members, approximately onethird are of Hispanic descent. The annual rate of growth of Hispanic membership at Vantage West is increasing by nearly 7 percent, while general market growth at the credit union is increasing at a slower rate. “As a company, we carefully analyze where we need to be to reach out to the Hispanic community,” said Luis Soto, Hispanic segment marketing manager for Vantage West. “Sometimes our Hispanic marketing is in English, sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes our 84 BizTucson

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messages are bilingual.” Soto said Vantage West focuses on community outreach by having a presence at events popular within the Hispanic community such as the International Mariachi Conference, FC Tucson soccer matches and events, and partnering with the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson at financial education forums. For its efforts, Vantage West became the first credit union in Arizona to receive the Juntos Avanzamos designation, which recognizes credit unions that are reaching out to the Hispanic

Reflecting on the past decade and looking at the current trends in our membership analysis, we see significant growth that is attributable to the Hispanic market.

Robert D. Ramirez President & CEO Vantage West Credit Union –

market and providing exemplary service. Juntos Avanzamos – which originated as a program of the Texas Credit Union League – recently became aligned with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, which intends to expand the program throughout the nation. In September, Vantage West became the federation’s first Juntos Avanzamos designee and the first credit union outside of Texas and Oklahoma to be so honored. Pablo DeFilippi, an NFCDCU VP, praised Vantage West for its “leadership, vision and commitment to financial inclusion that will increase asset building opportunities for the Hispanic community.” To earn the designation, Vantage West had to complete an extensive application, including information about what products and services it offers and what strategies it is using to serve the Hispanic market. Ramirez said receiving the Juntos Avanzamos designation “shows our commitment to our Hispanic community and that we are making strides to better serve their needs by focusing on their culture, their language and their financial goals.”

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BizINVESTMENT

Part of the Plan Investment Services Division Plays a Role in Members’ Long-Term Security By Mary Minor Davis plan, long-term care, or other products we can provide for them.” In 2014, Vantage West converted its service platform to CUNA Brokerage Services. Rivas said the change has integrated Investment Services more holistically into the company, providing a full range of services that members can

take advantage of. Since the CUNA conversion, Rivas said, her team has launched a comprehensive education campaign to make sure members are aware of the services available to them. Efforts include information and marketing in member communications, personal interaction when members meet with their bankers, and seminars that focus on individual topics related to financial planning, including understanding Social Security benefits, incomefor-life planning, and preparing for long-term care. In the last year, Vantage West has seen life insurance participation alone increase 73 percent, she said. The seminars, as well as personal consultation with advisors, are open to members, employees of business members, and Vantage West employees. This is only the beginning, Hernandez said. While only a small portion of the membership is engaged in Investment Services, Hernandez said Kenneth E. McGlamery it’s an opportunity for many people. Financial Advisor “It’s about education as Vantage West Credit Union part of our financial literacy mission,” she said. “We are here to meet the financial needs of our members, and this is an important driver in meeting those needs.”

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Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution to make securities available to members. Not NCUA/NCUSIF/FDIC Insured. May Lose Value. No Financial Institution Guarantee. Not a deposit of any financial institution. CBSI is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America. FR-1363953.1-1215-0118

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PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

Jamie Hernandez is on a mission to help Vantage West Credit Union members plan for their long-term needs. As VP and regional manager for Vantage West, Hernandez is responsible for managing the Investment Services division and is committed to making sure that the more than 135,000 members know they can turn to her team to find the right financial planning resources to take care of their long-term needs. “With the aging of the population, we know there’s going to be a large wealth transfer in the coming years,” she said. “We’re helping to prepare members to secure their future financially.” Nicole Rivas, assistant VP and district sales manager for Investment Services, said the opportunity to fulfill this mission stems from awareness that Vantage West offers financial planning tools at all levels. “Members don’t typically look to their credit union to provide investment services,” she said, noting that Vantage West has been offering some level of financial planning since 2001. “Nine out of 10 times, when our members learn about the opportunity, they take advantage of our retirement planning tools, whether that’s life insurance, understanding your 401(k)


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BizLEADERSHIP

Roots in Its People Homegrown Talent Finds Opportunity at Vantage West

The word “homegrown” applies not big boys can’t do.” only to the roots of Vantage West CredScott Odom, 38, is CFO at Vantage it Union as a company born and headWest and the youngest member of quartered in Tucson, but also to a good the company’s executive management share of its high-ranking employees. team. Danielle Bridges, Scott Odom and He grew up in Phoenix and came Luis Soto are just three who have to Tucson to attend the UA, where he climbed the ranks to assume positions earned a bachelor’s degree with honors of influence and leadership. in finance, accounting and entrepreBridges, just 33, has risen to become neurship. He also recently earned an VP of consumer lending at the credit MBA from the UA Eller College. union. She was an honor student at Canyon del Oro High School and received a full scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics and finance at the Eller College of Management. After experience in other local companies, she joined Vantage West as an internal auditor, which required her to travel to various branches to ensure riskmanagement policies and compliance regulations were being followed. In 2008, Bridges moved into a new role as loan center manager. While serving in that position, she earned an MBA, again at UA’s Eller College. More Luis Soto promotions followed, first as asHispanic Segment Marketing Manager sistant VP of consumer lending Vantage West Credit Union and to her present post. During her tenure at Vantage West, Bridges has led many successful strategic planning, product Odom went to work for KPMG, a expansion, quality assurance and loan major national accounting firm, where growth initiatives. he was an external auditor for nearly Bridges said Vantage West’s competithree years. He and his wife were detertive advantage is its “flexibility and agilmined to relocate to Tucson, so he took ity in customizing innovative products a job in 2003 as a staff accountant with for its members, which is something the Vantage West, then known as DM Fed88 BizTucson

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eral Credit Union. At the time he was the only accountant on the staff who was a CPA, and he quickly moved up the organizational ladder. In 2005, he became controller. Odom attributes his rapid rise in part to his role in establishing product profitability analysis at the credit union. “The CFO at the time had selected an external vendor to help us perform that process,” Odom said. “I was the primary contact on our side to facilitate a lot of data collection and implementation of this profitability system. For me, I gained a lot of knowledge and it was a successful endeavor that to this day is utilized by our credit union.” The newest of Vantage West’s youthful standouts is Luis Soto, 25, who was hired as Hispanic segment marketing manager in January 2015 just after receiving his MBA from UA Eller College. Soto had been scheduled to receive his MBA in May 2015, but folks at Vantage West were so impressed with his performance as an intern for the company during the summer of 2014, they convinced him to complete his MBA studies early, in December 2014, so he could lead the launch of Vantage West’s new marketing campaign aimed at the Hispanic community. “I love my job. It gives me the opportunity to make a positive impact not only at Vantage West, but in the community,” Soto said. “It also allows me to work with the talented people here at Vantage West.”

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PHOTOS: BRENT G. MATHIS

By David Pittman


Scott Odom

CFO Vantage West Credit Union

Danielle Bridges

VP Consumer Lending Vantage West Credit Union

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