SAN ANTONIO, Tex. — Security Service FCU ranked No. 1 on a list of financial providers favored by auto dealers, making it the first credit union ever to take the top spot in this annual national survey.

The Auto Finance Performance survey, conducted by Auto Finance Advisors ranks lenders in service, pricing, representatives and products.

More than 3,330 dealers from completed the survey over the summer in which each dealer could name and rate as many as six lenders — three prime and three nonprime or subprime.

AFP scores are based on quantitative data, according to Marcie Belles, the VP of auto finance at Royal Media, the publisher of Auto Finance News, which conducted the survey.

"[E]ach lender was ranked by its dealers in 25 components within the service, pricing, reps, and products categories," Belles said. "Aside from the quantitative data, dealers answer open-ended questions that offer lenders insight into specific strengths and weaknesses."

The $9.1 billion Security Service FCU scored the highest overall, with a composite 9.18 out of a possible 10; followed by Toyota Financial Services with 9.11; and SunTrust Bank at 8.82.

Among the 30 top-ranked institutions, 18 were banks, nine were captive lenders and only three were credit unions.

The other two CUs were: Teachers Credit Union, which ranked 13th (with an overall performance score of 8.47); and Navy Federal Credit Union, ranked 30th (with 8.0). The $72 billion Navy FCU is based in Vienna, Va.; $2.8 billion Teachers CU is headquartered in South Bend, Ind.

Among companies designated by dealers as "prime" lenders, Security Service took the top ranking, with an overall score of 9.17. Among lenders categorized as "subprime," Toyota Financial Services came in first with 9.19.

To explain the slight variation in scores, Belles explained that dealers identified and rated the three prime lenders they work with most often, and the three nonprime or subprime lenders they work with most often.

"Those ratings are combined to create the overall performance score," she said. "We also create separate scores for lenders depending on whether they're identified as 'prime' or 'non-prime/subprime.'"

This is the third year of the AFP study. In 2013, BMW Financial Services was ranked No. 1; last year Toyota Financial Services took the crown.

"Credit unions have certainly been inching their way into the top 30 ranking," Belles said. "In 2013, Security Service FCU was the only credit union on the list. Last year, two credit unions [Security Service and Teachers Credit Union] made the list, and this year Navy Federal joined the group. So, … credit unions are certainly making strides in performance levels."

So what should other CUs do to rank higher on this survey going forward?

Belles advised focusing on product breadth. "Credit unions tend to shy away from products like leases and balloon loans, for instance, which can give [captive lenders] and banks an edge," she said.

Among all the dealers who rated Security Service in this year's survey (whether they selected the CU as 'prime' or 'subprime' in replying), the overall performance score was 9.18. "When we calculate Security Service FCU's score based only on the dealers who designated it as a prime lender, the average is 9.17," Belles added.

Jim Laffoon, president and CEO of Security Service said it is "an honor for the CU to be recognized by the industry. "We are especially proud to be the first credit union to take the top spot in overall performance," Laffoon added.

Since 1990, the CU has grown its auto loan portfolio to more than $5.4 billion.

"We've focused on growth through a program that hinges on providing outstanding service and building strong relationships with dealers," said Charles Goss, executive vice president and chief lending officer for Security Service. "The goal is a seamless, efficient and fast loan process for members."

The credit union can approve a loan in as little as 15 to 20 minutes, with funding delivered to the dealership within 24 hours, sometimes on the same day, Goss added.

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