BANKING & FINANCE: First Federal opens Gaylord branch

GAYLORD – This month, First Federal of Northern Michigan, headquartered in Alpena, will open its ninth branch office at 1000 S. Wisconsin St. in Gaylord.

“In 1999 and 2000 we went through a strategic planning process and one of the goals was to become a dominant financial institution in Northern Michigan,” said President and CEO Jerry Christensen, who has 29 years of banking experience.

First Federal of Northern Michigan recently changed its name from First Federal Savings and Loan, founded in 1957, to reflect the bank’s growing regional presence in northern Lower Peninsula and the transformation into a community bank.

A $250 million bank, First Federal is currently the largest financial institution with the home office in northeast Michigan.

Christensen notes, “the recent bank consolidations have impacted our communities and we’re expanding to fill the void. We see this as an opportunity.”

Looking at the markets in their trade area, Christensen acknowledged that “Gaylord jumped out as a fast-growing area.”

In fact, Gaylord has experienced double-digit population growth over the last several years in the retail and commercial building boom.

“Gaylord continues to be a vibrant community and we look forward to opening an office there,” he said.

In their review of the community, they looked at other financial institutions in town, and felt First Federal has products that will fill a niche in Gaylord, especially in the residential, small business and deposit markets.

First Federal continues as a locally-owned and managed institution. Because of this, most lending decisions can be made at the desk while the customer is still there. “We saw the need for a smaller, regional bank that can make the local decisions,” said Tom Davis, Senior Vice President.

The bank is also installing software to streamline the mortgage process. Its goal is to complete the closing process in less than two weeks.

The staff in Gaylord are all veteran bankers with experience in the local Gaylord market. First Federal in Gaylord is headed up by Debra Weiss, who has been in banking since 1991 and was formerly an officer with First National Bank of Gaylord for seven years and served with the Office of Comptroller of the Currency.

“It’s exciting to bring a new bank to Gaylord, and I look forward to seeing my former customers and introducing them to First Federal’s extraordinary level of service,” she said.

The rest of the staff includes Phyllis Desprez, community banking officer; Bridget Renkewicsz Boynton, new accounts; and Lori Swarthout and Amy Huff, tellers.

Both the bank and staff believe it’s important to have an active role in the community.

First Federal also has branch locations in Lewiston, Indian River, Mio, Cheboygan, Oscoda and Ossineke.

For more information on First Federal, contact Jami Patterson at (989) 356-9041 or visit their Web site at BN