How a Northwest Credit Union will Leverage NCUA Field of Membership Rule to Serve More Counties

The Credit Union Movement’s legal advocacy worked for credit unions, and for Main Street.

Great NorthWest’s most recent branch opening was themed, “Our Future’s So Bright, We Gotta Wear Shades.” That’s especially true now, following NCUA’s modernization of its FOM rule.

8/11/2020

In 2018, Aberdeen, Washington-based Great NorthWest Federal Credit Union was headed down the path of expanding its field of membership into six counties, giving more consumers access to the not-for-profit, cooperative financial services model. But a U.S. District Court decision gutted portions of the National Credit Union Administration’s Field of Membership rule, and that put a barricade in the path. A big one. NCUA had to revoke permission for Great NorthWest’s expansion in three counties.

Many credit unions across the country experienced a similar impact.

The NCUA and the Credit Union Movement went to work, winning an appeal of the District Court’s ruling, only to have the bank lobby appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, in June of this year, the High Court refused to hear the appeal — a big win for credit unions. That set the stage for NCUA to reinstate the FOM rule at its July 30 board meeting.

Great NorthWest wasted no time asking for the three counties to be added back to its service area, and NCUA immediately obliged.

“We look forward to growing in our newly acquired FOM counties,” said Doug Page, President and CEO. “We feel there are pockets of underserved areas where we can make a real difference.”

By no means was Great NorthWest standing still during the court battle. The credit union’s membership increased significantly following a merger, and the addition of other counties that they were able to keep by exploring creative solutions. They worked closely with the Northwest Credit Union Association’s John Trull, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, to navigate the complex situation.

“NWCUA was really on top of it, getting information out to us with our options and providing any support necessary to move ahead,” Page said.

The win would not have been possible without the leadership at the NCUA choosing to fight the initial decision, according to Trull. He noted the league system supported NCUA in the legal proceedings, as did impacted credit unions.

“We appreciate our members’ support when we ask for their input and engagement,” Trull said. “It makes a real difference, and even though it took a couple of years to sort the FOM rule out in court, it was worth every minute of it.”

When Great NorthWest opened a new branch in Chehalis last year, the theme was, “Our Future’s So Bright, We Gotta Wear Shades.” With the FOM rule reinstated, that’s truer now than ever.

Have a question or comment about this story? Email us!