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Alaska's Original National Bank

A furniture store on the corner of 4th Avenue and G Street in Anchorage served as the original location for what would become The First National Bank of Anchorage on January 30, 1922.

Anchorage's New Year's Eve fireworks show on January 30 came before the start of the Fur Rendezvous celebrations. For what purpose was it intended? For those who are familiar with the Cuddy family's past and the events of that day one hundred years ago, the fact that it took place in Cuddy Family Midtown Park may provide a hint.

It was in 1941 when the Cuddy family took over management of First National Bank Alaska (FNBA), by which time the bank had been in operation for 19 years. Established on January 30, 1922, as The First National Bank of Anchorage, in the back room of a furniture store on the corner of Fourth Avenue and G Street, FNBA has thrived while many of its competitors have failed or been acquired.

National Bank of Alaska (NBA), established in Skagway in 1916, is not to be confused with FNBA. Formerly the largest bank in Alaska, NBA was founded by the Rasmuson family but never reached its centennial. In 2000, Wells Fargo acquired NBA, just a few years after the San Francisco-based Gold Rush bank had been acquired by the Minneapolis-based Norwest Corporation, a bank that will turn 100 years old in 2029.

In 2001, the 'A' in First National was redesigned. Chief Administrative Officer Cheri Gillian recalls working through the name change from The First National Bank of Anchorage to First National Bank Alaska. After Wells Fargo's acquisition of NBA, we rebranded as First National Bank of Alaska. ”

FNBA has a strong claim to being Alaska's first national bank because NBA didn't get its national charter until 1950. Betsy Lawer, the chair and chief executive officer, says that "first" has always been a part of the company's brand. FNBA pioneered the use of a drive-through teller window and electronic banking in Alaska in the year 1960. The only bank in a region the size of Montana, it opened its first branch in Bethel a year later. Anchorage's FNBA branch was the first US bank to open inside a federal building, in 1980. And in 1984, 1985, and 1986, FNBA had the highest ROI in the country.

Quite a few firsts, indeed.

Marble salvaged from a candy kitchen was used as the first countertop at FNBA's original downtown Anchorage location. From the remnants of his Idaho candy factory, Winfield Ervin furnished his new bank. The railroad workers, fur trappers, and gold miners who were Ervin's first clients slid their valuables across the counter.

Lawer remembers witnessing the bank's gold nuggets being weighed on a scale. The gold and pelts would be stored in the vault as collateral. The pelts, however, often had an unpleasant odor, she says. "Pelts are no longer acceptable as collateral." ”

The 4th and G Streets location didn't make it to its 100th birthday. Lawer explains, "It was not our choice."

Following FNBA's decision to sell the building in 2020, the metro branch moved to a location a few blocks to the west. Lawer explains that banks are forbidden from property ownership: "With the advancement of technology, the bank's footprint downtown had shrunk to the point where they [the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] felt we were not occupying enough of the building, using it as a bank." for the reason that it was a property investment ”

Both the 4th Avenue Theater and the former FNBA are currently unoccupied. Both the bank and the theater were constructed in 1941, the same year that Ervin sold FNBA to a new owner. Former federal prosecutor in Valdez, Warren Cuddy, has acquired a majority stake. After his passing ten years later, his wife Lucy Hon Cuddy assumed the role of board chair, and their son Dan "D. H Cuddy, who was then vice president, ascended to the presidency. In 1982, J P Pfeifer was elected president, and D H Cuddy assumed the position of board chairman. In 1992, his son David Cuddy took the helm as president, and his daughter Betsy became COO.

Betsy Lawer estimates that she started helping out at the family business when she was 2 years old. She explains, "Pop would occasionally take one of us on his Saturday morning business calls, and I always behaved because I found them fascinating." When I was a kid, I used to go to work with my dad in the morning and listen to the stories and business plans of the long-time Alaskans he served. That's when I first realized the power of banking. ”

Duke University was where Lawer first gained employment after completing her studies in economics. Never was there another place she wanted to work as much, she says.

Being the board chair since the year D H Lawer has fostered an environment wherein others are encouraged to treat FNBA as if it were their own following the passing of Cuddy in 2015, his appointment as CEO in 2018, and his reinstatement as bank president following the retirement of Doug Longacre shortly after the centennial.

The FNBA drive-through window was the first in Alaska in 1960.

Financial Institution of Alaska's First National Bank

Chief Banking Officer Ryan Strong says, "I didn't have a family member working here, but my parents did a lot of banking with the bank, so they were familiar with Mr." Cuddy and Betsy Lawer... It's probably not a coincidence that I worked there during the summers in between my two years of college, and when I returned to Alaska with a degree in finance, First National was the obvious place for me to start my career. ”

Gillian, who was hired by Lawer in the 1980s as an artist for a marketing team of two, attributes FNBA's success to the organization's approachable management. "I'm not going to kid myself into thinking that every front-line employee knows who Betsy or I are or that they understand that we're making decisions every day that we hope will lead to the best possible workplace, but I think a lot of people do." What she actually says is

Extremely values it He says of his boss, "I've worked a few places and I've never seen a leader who cares genuinely as much for the employees of the organization as you do."

About three hundred and fifty workers showed their dedication to the company by braving the cold to attend the centennial party in the park on a weeknight in January. Darren Franz, Chief Credit Officer, thought the fireworks and teamwork were fantastic. Having previously worked for someone who didn't value his employees' opinions or thoughts, he says, "I've celebrated every day I've been over here because, I gotta tell ya, if you work for somebody that doesn't care about people, you hugely appreciate working in a place where you're valued and your opinion matters."

D. Ronald Reagan graces the cover of the first issue of Alaska Business Monthly, published in January 1985. H In a crooked grin, Cuddy The headline, "First National's Cuddy cashes in on conservatism," and his portrait are framed by FNBA's signature color (some call it maroon; others are sure it's burgundy). This magazine has had a longstanding, close relationship with the FNBA.

FNBA has won the Best Place to Work, 250 Employees award at our Best of Alaska Business awards six years in a row. After FNBA's national rankings, such as being named a "Best Bank to Work For" by American Banker magazine, Lawer says this is one of her most cherished accomplishments.

Every employee's success is crucial to the bank's success. For example, Strong says, "We're always looking for ways to turn banking for our employees from a job into a career," and every other officer interviewed for this article says something very similar.

The success of the bank is tied to the success of its customers and the community at large, as stated in FNBA's mission statement. If our customers succeed, our communities succeed, and the state succeeds, then we succeed," says Strong. If none of these options work, we will have to close shop. ”

Mr. Mike Mortenson, CEO of Alaska Rubber Group, is one such client. Concerned about lending to a business in a different state, FNBA initially declined to finance the Anchorage industrial supplier's purchase of five new locations in Washington. Mortenson, however, claims that the bank was confident in the company due to its background, which he claims was similar to FNBA's humble beginnings. Ultimately, it was the local bank that "really saw something in us from the very beginning, jumped on board," as Mortenson puts it.

Of D H Betsy Lawer, one of Cuddy's six children, claims she was the only one who was truly interested in a long-term career in banking.

Financial Institution of Alaska's First National Bank

For example, FNBA aided the Alaska Rubber Group through its transition to employee ownership. Additionally, Mortenson claims that FNBA processed all of the necessary paperwork for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) when revenue was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He claims, "We never worried that we would have to lay off people."

About a third of all PPP loans in Alaska were originated through FNBA. Franz says, "That stands out to me the most of all the initiatives we've done." Hundreds of millions of dollars in PPP loans were processed by FNBA, he says, and the bank was sometimes reimbursed for its work before the federal government figured out how to do so.

Franz acknowledges, "It stretched us financially." It came out of pocket, so to speak, but everything turned out all right. They always paid their bills on time, and we always got the money for the loans we made within a couple of weeks. ”

Franz says that FNBA worked together through the tension because the bank understood the importance of PPP in assisting customers. Good grief, he thought. If we make a mistake now, I hope we won't be responsible for bringing down the bank before it turns 100. We all knew we had to give it a shot to see if it would work. ”

Gillian recalls that FNBA made an "across-the-organization effort" to get their computers ready for the Y2K bug. As she puts it, "This bank will adapt and thrive." That is my understanding. The bank's core values are virtually unparalleled, and that's why we've been able to succeed despite facing many obstacles. ”

Among these difficulties is the 1964 earthquake. Damage was done to FNBA's main office, but D H For good measure, Cuddy promised an even higher reconstruction. Lawer explains, "My father instilled in all of us a deep love for Alaska." "Today, that's just how banking is done." ”

While accompanying my father to the bank every morning, I learned at a young age the positive impact that banks can have on people's lives through my exposure to the stories and aspirations of long-time Alaskans. ”

First National Bank of Alaska Board Chair and Chief Executive Officer Betsy Lawer

In the words of Strong, "change in the banking world has never been going as fast as it is now, so the delivery methods and the way banking is done continues to evolve at a very fast pace." We can meet all of your product and service needs while also keeping pace with the ever-evolving market. ”

About 350 FNBA staff members celebrated the bank's centennial at Cuddy Family Midtown Park.

Alaska's Original National Bank

FNBA has come a long way since its earliest days using pelts and computerized punch cards. Seventy percent of the bank's 100-year history has been influenced by Lawer's direct involvement. Do you remember when banks would close at 3 o'clock? She does "It was good in a way," says Lawer, "because you were completely focused on customers until 3 o'clock, and then you could focus on the paperwork after 3 o'clock." "Right now, you're dealing with customers and paperwork simultaneously. ”

While Franz has only been with the FNBA for 2% of its existence, his career dates back much further. When I first started working in the banking industry, everything was done on paper with stamps. There weren't even computers at each teller counter. Thirty years ago, "there were a lot more manual processes than there are today," he reflects. Perhaps in a hundred years from now, tellers will have been replaced by automated systems. ”

Franz thinks the commercial banker, who is typically offstage at the local branch, will continue to handle customer interactions. If a human is in charge, could AI eventually take over?

Judge rules in the negative. No computer system can replace the human element in a bank's relationship with a client. Adding, "We do enough complex things to provide value added for our customers,"

Some things in business cannot change no matter how fast it evolves. Will the FNBA also continue? Franz notes that banks fail nearly as frequently as restaurants, but FNBA has made it this far through a combination of diligence and good fortune. Is there hope that it will last for another century

Lawer says, "I hope so." I don't see any reason why we can't continue to grow and prosper if we continue to invest in attracting and retaining talented people, remain open to new ideas and approaches, and prioritize satisfying our customers above all else. ”

Alaska Business March 2023 cover

Oil and gas have dominated discussions of energy in the US Arctic since the 1970s. At the state level, the importance or even the possibility of energy source diversification can easily get lost in the shuffle.

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