Member Benefits, Personalized Services, and Affinity for the Cooperative Tradition Drive Strong Credit Union Membership

Click here to view the entire ECONorthwest report.


When it comes to selecting a financial partner, a majority of Northwest consumers choose a not-for-profit, cooperative credit union. According to an independent study by ECONorthwest, credit unions served 7.3 million consumers, or 55 percent of the Northwest population in 2018.

When considering the financial services markets in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, the percentages tell the same story, with credit unions holding a 50 percent or greater portion of market share and growth that exceeds the state’s population growth rate:

  • In Idaho: credit unions hold 57 percent of the market share, and saw 8 percent growth since 2017, compared to 2.3 percent population growth;
  • In Oregon: credit unions hold 50 percent of the market share, and saw 14 percent growth since 2016, compared to 3.4 percent population growth; and
  • In Washington: credit unions hold 58 percent of the market share, and saw 14 percent growth since 2016, compared to 3.4 percent population growth.

The reasons for credit unions’ popularity can be attributed to a variety of factors. ECONorthwest Partner and Director of Analytics, Michael Wilkerson, says credit union membership growth in the Northwest has been at some of the highest growth rates of any region in the nation since the first study was published in 2014.

“The strength in growth is largely attributable to the consistent value delivered to members compared to the for-profit financial institutions, as well as access to branch locations serving rural areas of the region where credit unions are often the only financial institution with a physical presence,” said Wilkerson.

As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions are owned by their members. They do not pay Wall Street stockholders and instead return profits after expenses to their members, offering better value in the form of favorable loan rates, better returns on savings accounts, and lower fees that spurs economic activity throughout the region.
“In 2018, the 7.3 million members in the Northwest received $603 million in benefits through the cooperative non-profit structure of credit unions,” said Wilkerson.

Tradition may also contribute to credit unions’ popularity. The Northwest’s early cooperative culture had its beginnings in the farming and logging enterprises that operated around the turn of the century. That cooperative culture still resonates today, according to Oregon-based Rivermark Community Credit Union President and CEO, Seth Schaefer.

“I believe that those who choose the Northwest as their home foster an affinity for local institutions – local restaurants, small retail centers, and more,” said Schaefer. “Being a locally owned cooperative financial institution speaks to many in the same light.”

Maintaining a local edge doesn’t necessarily ensure success. According to Schaefer, members choose Rivermark for the strong mix of people and accessibility that make for a positive member experience: empowered employees who offer solid advice and answers to members, and members who see parity in service channels.

“Even in a very highly engaged market, the industry share of wallet has remained relatively flat,” said Schaefer. “To move the needle, I believe we are all seeking that unique angle in which to serve a broader spectrum of consumers. For Rivermark, we’re striving to make it as convenient as possible to manage a financial life anywhere, anytime.”

In a recent interview with CU Broadcast, NWCUA President and CEO, Troy Stang, reiterated why market share in the Northwest is strong and how credit unions are contributing to their local economies. In 2018, Northwest credit unions had a $7.8 billion impact on the region’s economy.

More information on Northwest credit unions’ economic impact is available in the “2018 Economic Impacts of Credit Unions in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington” report commissioned by the Northwest Credit Union Association and created by ECONorthwest, the region’s largest economic consulting firm. The report details membership growth, economic support, jobs and income, and credit unions’ impact on the Northwest and to the economies in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

Credit unions can tell the story of their collective economic impact by visiting your Association’s marketing toolkit, which contains the Northwest Economic Impact Report and Reports for Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, messaging templates, social media posts, infographics, and videos.

For questions or more information, contact Lynn Heider, NWCUA Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs.

Posted in Economy.