The Mormon Church sold Zions First National Bank in 1960, but the relationship between the two remains so close that many people in Utah believe the church still owns it.
That's good for Zions because Utah is more than two-thirds Mormon.The bank's president and majority stockholder, Roy W. Simmons, profits from the relationship with his church, but he won't say to what extent.
It is apparent, however, the church is more a "partner" than a "client," according to The Arizona Republic, and the relationship illustrates the clannish manner in which the church does business.
Simmons, 74, a lifelong Mormon, bought controlling interest of Zions from his church 30 years ago; bought a radio station from the church 13 years ago; is partners with the church in a satellite communications business; and sat for 20 years on the board of directors of church-owned Beneficial Life Insurance Co.
Meanwhile, top leaders of the LDS Church constitute 25 percent of the bank's board of directors.
Simmons' bank, the second-largest in the state behind First Security Bank, is the only one in Utah that handles electronic funds transfers of millions of dollars to a large number of the 44,000 Mormon missionaries worldwide.
Also, Zions has the checking accounts for many of the church wards in the United States.
Hugh Hintze, a 79-year-old lifelong Mormon, is bitter about his church's association with the bank.
Hintze has claimed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that his faith in the church led him to being defrauded by Zions Bank officers who persuaded him and other partners to take over a car-leasing company, including a $700,000 debt that was owed to Zions.
"I believed what they told me about the business," Hintze said. "I thought, how can I go wrong with five of my apostles on their board?"
However, the business quickly collapsed, forcing Hintze into personal bankruptcy. Bank officials denied any responsibility for Hintze's problems.
Discussing the situation shortly before a court-ordered auction of his personal belongings, Hintze said, "Five of the 12 (apostles) are on that bank's board of directors. Isn't there enough of God's work for them to do taking care of seven million LDS?"
Simmons was vague during an interview explaining the role church leaders serve on the bank's board of directors.
"They do what any director does," he said. "They attend meetings . . . they review policies."
Simmons acknowledged that the public perceives Zions to be the church's bank, but he said the bank does not have an exclusive relationship.
"They do business with many banks, including ours," he said.
The church won't discuss which banks it does business with.
However, J. Alan Blodgett, the church's former chief financial officer, said Simmons "let me know that he loved (the church's) business and he was going to do whatever he could to get it."
"Sometimes the church has needed partners, because sometimes there were special reasons the church couldn't do certain things," Blodgett said. "I've always felt that Roy was . . . someone you could trust and have confidence in."
Simmons and a partner, the late Leland Flint, purchased the church's 57 percent interest in Zions Bank in 1960. Simmons told The Republic he couldn't remember how the transaction came about.
"After all, that was 30 years ago," he said.
In 1977, Simmons bought another church business, KSL-FM radio in Salt Lake City, when the church decided to sell it to buy a Dallas radio station.
Simmons changed the call letters of the station to KSFI-FM (which stands for his holding company, Simmons Family Inc.). The easy-listening music station is one of the top-rated stations in Salt Lake City.
Then, three years ago, Simmons and the church, through the church's broadcasting company, Bonneville International, entered into a partnership to buy satellite time to beam the Mormon Church's programs to 3,000 wards in North and Central America.
That partnership, Simmons Satellite Inc., became Keystone Communications in August 1989 as business opportunities expanded and several partners were added. The Simmons family and the church have one-third interest each in the company. Other investors own the remaining third. Simmons' son, David, is Keystone's chairman.
Keystone, which grossed $25 million last year, now has satellite broadcasting contracts with numerous businesses, sports organizations and news companies, including 20 National Basketball Association teams, Reuter News Service, a Japanese television station, ABC, CBS, NBC, Cable News Network and the Catholic Television Network.