There are banks and lenders. And then there is American AgCredit, part of a century-old American tradition of cooperative financial services, where customers own the business.

The company, founded in 1916, and today located in Santa Rosa, Calif., provides loans and other financial services to agricultural and rural customers throughout California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oklahoma, as well as to capital markets customers in all 50 states. Vineyards and wineries are its leading category, accounting for almost one-fifth of the cooperative’s business.

The key to that 104 years of success is its customer-owned structure. Since American AgCredit is owned and governed by its customers, they help determine what the company does and how it does it. In this, it works like many of the rural cooperatives, like electricity, set up in the early part of the 20th century.

In addition, borrowers are eligible to share in the cooperative’s success through an annual cash patronage distribution, based on annual average loan balance. That was 1 percent the past two years, effectively reducing the cost of borrowing by that full 1 percent. In total, American AgCredit has returned more than $690 million to customers, including a record $115.4 million for 2019.