Open Lending and AFCU Partnership: Conversation With Brett Christensen, AFCU Chief Lending Officer

Open Lending recently announced a new partnership with America First Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in the country. Following the announcement, AFCU will begin offering indirect lending services through our Lenders Protection program. The move allows AFCU to provide more vehicle loan options to future near and non-prime or emerging-prime members.

For more than 80 years, AFCU has fostered generations of loyal members. According to Brett Christensen, AFCU’s Chief Lending Officer, the credit union has maintained its legacy of excellence “by developing and teaching employees our corporate values, which place the highest emphasis on member service.”

Open Lending had the opportunity to ask Christensen a few questions about challenges and opportunities for credit unions and AFCU’s decision to partner with Open Lending. Here’s what he had to say.

  • Open Lending: Throughout AFCU’s history, it’s built and maintained strong partnerships. How can credit unions better facilitate dealer relationships? What has AFCU learned from building its substantial dealer network?  
    • Brett Christensen: At AFCU, we achieve strong dealer relationships via frequent communication from a relationship management perspective and with our indirect lending team.
  • OL: Indirect lending services like Lenders Protection can support credit unions in a fickle market. What are some of the biggest challenges facing credit unions today? In other words, what risks are keeping you up at night?
    • BC: Credit unions are facing worsening economic conditions that slow growth and increase loan losses. They’re also increasingly dealing with fierce competition from fintechs and cybersecurity-related issues.
  • OL: Given shifting economic conditions, what can credit unions do to maintain growth and increase profitability while still serving their members?
    • BC: Remain competitive on loan rates while working on automating the lending process to reduce the cost of production.
  • OL: Members are looking to their credit unions to offer stability and options during a tumultuous time for the automotive industry. What are some challenges you’re hearing from your members regarding vehicle ownership? What are the most significant barriers they have to overcome?
    • BC: Potential buyers are facing a significant increase in the purchase price and higher loan rates, monthly payments and cost of ownership, particularly gas prices.
  • OL: Given the pandemic, supply chain shortages, and interest rate hikes, how has AFCU’s auto loan volume fluctuated over the past 24 months?
    • BC: We saw a significant slowdown in loan volumes at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But loans went back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, and we saw higher volumes throughout this year. However, we’re starting to see another lag in loan volume once again.
  • OL: What were some of your reservations about implanting the Lenders Protection Program? What was it that convinced you otherwise?
    • BC: My initial thought was to implement non-prime auto lending ourselves to achieve a higher yield on these loans. I came to find out that, with our needed focus on our prime program, we did not have the time, resources or vast experience that Open Lending has to implement this program quickly and competently.
  • OL: What about Open Lending and its Lenders Protection Program stuck out to you among other indirect lending service providers?
    • BC: Open Lending’s expertise in the non-prime lending niche, proven over many years, distinguishes them in the market.
  • OL: How will the Lenders Protection program enable AFCU to continue providing the kind of service your members have come to expect?
    • BC: With Open Lending and Lenders Protection, we’ll be able to approve more members for auto loans and build stronger relationships to better meet their future needs, which is a big win for our members and us.

AFCU wanted a trusted partner and proven platform to elevate member services, and that’s what we provide each of our clients. With Lenders Protection, AFCU can dramatically increase loan originations while mitigating risk. The credit union can also expedite and digitize the origination process — and speed and convenience are two things that members expect and fintechs deliver.

We also recently added nine months to our maximum term, enabling credit unions to support their members with more paths to vehicle ownership. Credit unions partnering with Open Lending, like AFCU, can now offer 84-month terms for new and used vehicles up to 4 years old with less than 60,000 miles. This expansion gives credit unions the power to provide a higher payment-to-income ratio for indirect lending, increasing full approvals and higher funding ratios despite fewer counter offers.

We’re excited to see how the Lenders Protection program will empower AFCU to make vehicle ownership a reality for more members.