Qualstar Credit Union Thanks Members for a Great Year with $2.2 Million ‘Loyalty Bonus’

“Credit unions were founded on the principle of ‘people helping people.’ Giving back to members is a real, tangible way to do that.”Mark Nelson, CEO of Qualstar Credit Union

“Qualstar has always been a great credit union, which is why I have stayed with them for all of these years. But paying your member a bonus due to the amazing success of the credit union is unheard of, and quite honestly, I’m amazed. I will continue to be a loyal member and spread the word of this great institution! Thanks!”

That’s how member Christi V. reacted in January 2013 to Qualstar Credit Union’s “Year of Thanks” — a year in which the Puget Sound-area credit union returned more than $4.4 million to its members through a unique combination of dividends, bonuses, rewards, scholarships and more.

Wait until she opens her mailbox today.

For the second consecutive year, Qualstar is thanking its members for a successful year of strong growth and increased income with Loyalty Bonuses that will total $2.2 million. Individual bonuses will range from $10 to several thousand dollars, with an average payout of $81 per member.

Letters announcing the bonuses will begin arriving in mailboxes today, and money will be deposited into accounts starting on Jan. 29.

“Seven years ago, we decided to adopt one very simple idea to help build loyalty with our members, and that is to always find a way to improve their financial situations,” says Mark Nelson, Qualstar’s CEO. “That has become our focus. And as a cooperative, one of the ways we can live up to it is by returning income to them.”

Qualstar did that last year by declaring 2013 the “Year of Thanks.” In January, the credit union rewarded its members for their 2012 business with Loyalty Bonuses that totaled nearly $2.5 million. Those were followed every two months by Loyalty Rewards that thanked members who continued to use Home Banking ($119,780 in payouts), eStatements ($160,550), Mobile Banking ($103,380) and other services.

Qualstar also gave cash back to members who added new services, with Loyalty Deals for auto loans, VISA credit cards, checking accounts and more. All of that was on top of regular dividends — nearly $1.3 million in 2013 — that the credit union paid out on savings, checking, IRAs and other accounts. And the $25,794 it donated to Boys & Girls Clubs and other charitable organizations. And the $3,000 it awarded in post-high school scholarships.

Not surprisingly, social media lit up with the news.

“Thank you, Qualstar, for sharing! In a world of greedy banks, it’s nice to be part of (a financial institution) that isn’t,” member Brenda R. posted to Facebook. “You guys ROCK! Now I have a little extra to give back.”

Added member Peggy F.: “Never has my bank given me a surprise bonus! Love, love, love QCU.”

During a visit to Qualstar’s Renton branch, another member mentioned to staffers that she was going to split the cost of a set of tires for a neighbor in need, even though she really couldn’t afford to do that. “She didn’t know about the Loyalty Bonus yet, so our manager shared with her the amount that was coming her way,” says Tracey Elfstrom, Qualstar’s vice president of member relations. “It turned out to be half of what her portion of the tires would be.”

“We couldn’t have scripted a better example of the ‘people helping people’ philosophy that credit unions were founded on,” Elfstrom says. “It wasn’t a fancy ad campaign, or a glamorous special event — just an example of how a few hundred dollars was going to really help.”

Qualstar was chartered in 1952 by a small group of Safeway employees. Its field of membership is now statewide, and includes employees of Safeway, King County/Metro and several trade union locals. The credit union currently serves more than 51,000 members, with assets of more than $345 million.

Elfstrom says that Qualstar had only planned to pay Loyalty Bonuses once.

“We had our best year ever in 2012, and wanted to thank members for helping us get there after several difficult years during the recession,” she says. “But since we had another good year, and in the cooperative spirit, we decided to pay one out again.”

Loyalty Deals will also continue in 2014, Elfstrom says.

Loyalty Bonus payouts are based on members’ participation in the credit union, including their average deposit balances, average loan balances, the types of loans they have, and the services they use — like Home Banking, Mobile Banking and eStatements — that reduce Qualstar’s expenses.

Have a Qualstar mortgage loan, equity loan or Fast Track loan? Those are each worth a $50 bonus. Made six charges to your VISA credit card or deposited more than $6,000 to your checking account in 2013? Meeting those criteria earns $25 each.

Kids and teen-agers with a youth account will get a minimum of $10 each. And their parents will get a letter encouraging them to talk not only about making smart financial decisions, but also about the cooperative nature of credit unions that made the bonuses possible in the first place.

Credit unions are cooperatives, after all, so earnings are shared with members instead of stockholders. Qualstar members benefit every day, Elfstrom says, with low loan rates, access to more than 30,000 surcharge-free ATMS, Mobile Banking with Bill Payer, and a 24/7 call center that is actually answered by a real person. The loyalty bonus is just one more benefit of membership.

“Credit unions were founded on the principle of ‘people helping people,’” CEO Mark Nelson says. “Giving back to members is a real, tangible way to do that.”

That’s true enough, but perhaps member Stephanie H. sums it up best:

“Pretty cool, Qualstar. Pretty cool.”

For more information about Qualstar Credit Union’s Loyalty Bonus program, contact Tracey Elfstrom at traceye@qualstarcu.com or 425.460.3808.


Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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