Credit Unions Add 1.3 Million Members in 2011, Including 400,000 in 4th Quarter

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) released final membership growth numbers for 2011, reporting that credit unions experienced a net gain of 1,344,936 members in the United States last year. The growth pushes the number of credit union members in the country to nearly 92 million and marks a year-over-year increase of approximately 1.5 percent.

Northwest credit unions accounted for nearly 125,000 of those new members, with Washington adding 104,000 new credit union members and Oregon picking up nearly 20,000 in 2011.

The numbers serve to quantify the impact of last fall’s Bank Transfer Season, in which consumers, fueled by events like Bank Transfer Day and the introduction of new big-bank fees, switched en masse to credit unions.

Northwest credit unions added 123,752 new members to their rolls in 2011, including 50,000 new memberships in the fourth quarter alone, bringing total membership in Oregon and Washington to 4.2 million.

Nationally, the fourth quarter in 2011 saw a net membership gain of 398,732. Washington alone added 38,301 credit union members to its ranks, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s new credit union members last fall. Oregon, meanwhile, added approximately 11,400 members during 2011’s fourth quarter, representing more than half of its yearly net membership gains.

“Last year was historic in terms of awareness and sheer numbers of consumers joining the national credit union movement,” Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) CEO John Annaloro said. “As a region, though, the Pacific Northwest—especially Washington—outperformed most of the rest of the nation by 15-20 percent in terms of pure gains.”

Oregon’s 2011 membership numbers are skewed by the interstate merger of First Tech Federal Credit Union with California’s Addison Avenue Credit Union, which caused some 162,000 Oregon credit union members to shift under this technicality to become part of California’s numbers. Having adjusted for this, the data shows that 19,753 consumers joined a credit union in the state in 2011.

“A lot of factors played into what happened during last year’s fourth quarter,” NWCUA President Troy Stang said. “The important takeaway is that more people have access to cooperative finance than ever before at a time when it is desperately needed.”

Following the 2008 Wall Street collapse, new credit union membership growth rates began climbing after years of steady, year-over-year decline—numbers were still increasing, but they were doing so by increasingly small percentages. That membership spike was halted in 2010, as the bank panic receded, and growth was on a path to continue a year-over-year decline in 2011.

Then Bank of America announced its $5 debit-card fee.

“Had Bank of America not announced that fee, and had consumers failed to organize Northwest membership numbers would likely have been little more than half of what they ended up being,” NWCUA Director of Public Relations David Bennett said. “Fourth quarters are usually the weakest quarter for membership growth, but that wasn’t the case in 2011.”

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