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First Federal aims to boost efficiency

First Federal has unveiled a new initiative, "First Federal Forward," that its executives believe creates greater efficiency and value for its customers.

After its implementation Jan. 4, the plan called for 10 positions to be cut, or "right-sized" as CEO Levon Mathews called it.

"We carefully evaluated current staffing levels to identify tasks which could be merged into other positions," Gina Lowman, First Federal senior vice president, told the Sequim Gazette on Monday.

"For that reason - and no other - positions were eliminated."

Those jobs - two in

Sequim and eight in Port Angeles branches - have been combined with existing workers' tasks to make operations more efficient.

Lowman said there are no immediate plans for more reductions.

"In fact, our project could reveal the need for new positions."



From Forks to P.T.

First Federal has 190 employees, including corporate managers, in eight branches: two in Sequim, three in Port Angeles, two in Port Townsend and one in Forks.

Mathews said the economy was not a factor in the jobs lost because First Federal remains the strongest bank on the North Olympic Peninsula.

While other banks have struggled, First Federal recorded 39-percent growth in core deposits in 2009, he said.

The bank's risk-based capital is well above acceptable at 17 percent, which ranks 7-percent higher than federal regulators' standing for "'good," the CEO said.

"We're a five-star bank, and that's the safest you can have," Mathews said.



What's the plan?

Spanning the next several months, teams of frontline employees and middle managers will analyze techniques to optimize operations.

They are to find and sug-gest better ways to use technology, improve processes and procedures, and generally make the bank more efficient.

Executives say having employees who work closely with customers is advantageous for the initiative.

"We recognize our frontline employees," Lowman said.

"They truly understand and hold the pulse of our customer base. (Suggestions for improvement) aren't coming from just the top but all around."

Mathews said the change in operations for customers wouldn't be seen right away, but those who are working on it are excited.



Faster loan OKs

One result of the plan could reduce waiting periods for loans from several days to a few days or even hours.

First Federal has not enacted an initiative like this before.

"All successful businesses must review their business model and proactively make adjustments," Lowman said.

"That's all we're doing."

Mathews sees the bank's initiative as an opportunity for growth.

"The world is talking about banks closing, but this is putting us in a position to thrive," he said.

"(The initiative) will prepare us. You have go through a storm to see the rainbow."

Mathews said concern among customers is high due to the large number of stressed banks in Washington.

"In 30 years, I've never experienced so many questions about how safe our money and banks are," Mathews said.



Local for 87 years

He and Lowman believe customers are educating themselves before switching services.

"It's a flight to quality.

They are finding other banks aren't as strong, so they come to us," Lowman said.

First Federal has been in business for 87 years. Mathews said staff and customers take pride in the hometown bank.

"We are a privately and locally owned bank," he said.

"That rings a little truer in the minds of the consumer. We're not forced to make decisions to affect our next quarter's earnings."

"When we make decisions, we're not pressured by shareholders," Lowman added.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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