Northwest Credit Unions Continue to See Strong Growth a Year After Bank Transfer Day

More than a year ago, Bank of America announced plans to charge customers $5 a month to use their debit cards. This decision almost immediately became a symbol of hidden big-bank fees and Wall Street greed in the minds of American consumers, and much of that backlash came to a head on Nov. 5, 2011—or Bank Transfer Day.

Bank Transfer Day began as one woman’s simple response to rising bank fees. Kristen Christian, an art dealer fro California, invited her friends on Facebook to close their bank accounts and join a credit union on Nov. 5. As the invitations proliferated, the idea of Bank Transfer Day gained momentum, and soon it became the face of an entire season of positive credit union publicity and anti-bank outcry.

By the time Nov. 5 arrived, 81,900 people had committed on Facebook to joining a credit union. Many credit union branches extended their hours and temporarily beefed up frontline staff, and credit unions nationwide reported unusually heavy traffic and unprecedented growth not only on Bank Transfer Day itself, but in the entire fourth quarter of 2011.

Now that the dust has settled, how can credit unions quantify Bank Transfer Day’s impact one year later?

According to the latest figures available from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the growth in new members and new checking accounts at Northwest credit unions contributed to the strongest growth in both of these areas that credit unions nationwide have experienced in over a decade.

In the 12 months ending in June 2012, Northwest credit unions saw 161,043 new members, a year-over-year growth rate of 3.9 percent. That is the fastest regional rate of growth in since 1997-1998, when Oregon and Washington credit unions combined for 4.2-percent member growth. But even that year’s new member total of 132,928 is more than 30,000 new members less than this past year’s total.

Individually, Oregon and Washington posted membership gains of 37,876 (2.8 percent) and 123,167 (4.4 percent), respectively, for the year ending June 31, 2012,

The nation’s 7,100 federal and state-chartered credit unions added 2.2 million new members in the 12 months ending June 2012, according to the NCUA.

That 2.2 million national gain is a new-member growth rate of 2.2 percent—the fastest growth rate since June 2000-June 2001.  By way of comparison, the U.S. population grows at the rate of about 1 percent a year. Total membership in U.S. credit unions today stands at more than 95 million. 

Moreover, a modern-day record number of nearly 2.9 million new checking accounts were opened at U.S. credit unions in the 12 months ended June 30, the most since at least 1989, according to data from NCUA.

During the same 12-month period, Northwest credit unions enjoyed similar growth, with Oregon credit union members opening 79,234 checking  accounts for a year-over-year increase of 10.7 percent. Washington’s 10.6-percent increase comes after 170,633 new checking accounts were opened at its state’s credit unions.

The year ending June 1998 was also the last time share draft growth saw such a surge in the region. Oregon checking accounts that year increased by 11.7 percent, or 43,169. In Washington, new checking accounts topped 15.3 percent or 110,821 between June 31, 1997 and 1998.

According to data released by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the new credit union members brought on by the events surrounding Bank Transfer Day were rewarded for their effort.

Northwest consumers save $328.4 million a year by using credit unions rather than banks. To an Oregon family that works out to about $184, or about $97 per member. In Washington, the family and individual credit union member savings amounts to $134 and $70, respectively.

Posted in Around the NW, Community Impact.