Can the Movement Reach for a Common Vision?

Our common values will continue to be the foundation of our success.

October 01, 2012
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With International Credit Union Day on Oct. 18 and the International Year of Cooperatives winding down, now’s an opportune time to step back and look at how our credit union movement is doing.

One of the most striking developments has been the astounding growth in credit union membership. Not too long ago, the movement was wringing its hands over a pattern of weak membership growth.

But that was before the consumer revolt that began in late 2011 over excessive bank fees, and the similar frustrations with banks.

Both gave  rise to the viral phenomenon known as Bank Transfer Day. Its one-year anniversary is Nov. 5.

The net effect lit a fire that encouraged legions of frustrated consumers to turn to credit unions, and, in many cases, they took the next step and became members.

The membership numbers are striking, and it’s clear the momentum carried beyond Bank Transfer Day and well into 2012. Indeed, every day really is Bank Transfer Day.

As of year-end June 2012, credit unions added 2.2 million net new members, according to NCUA.

For perspective, consider the 2.2 million gain in new membership is the fastest increase we’ve seen in the past decade. And remember, this is net growth, subtracting closed accounts.

This means the actual number of new memberships is even higher. The 2.2 million in net new membership growth is also 80% higher than the 1.2 million average during the past decade, and nearly four times greater than the 550,000 net new members added in the 12 months ending June 2011.

We saw further evidence in the online traffic at—the consumer website CUNA and the leagues launched in March 2011 to give consumers the basics about credit unions and steer them to credit unions they’re eligible to join.

In the months after its launch, the site received about 2,000 visits a week. In the run-up to Bank Transfer Day, the visits averaged 4,000 a week, spiking just before Bank Transfer Day at 70,000 visits in one day. In 2012 it has averaged between 5,000 and 6,000 visits a week.

People are turning to credit unions for value, great service, and a sense of community—and credit unions continue to deliver.

The latest “trust index” from the highly respected Chicago Booth/Kellogg School this summer recorded a startling drop in the public’s trust of national banks (23% on the trust index). Their reputations were badly bruised from the financial crisis.

But the public’s trust in credit unions rose on the index from 58% to 63%. Those findings are consistent with CUNA’s own polling data that found high favorability ratings for credit unions. And among those who use credit unions as their primary financial institution, virtually all view credit unions favorably.

Clearly, to use credit unions is to love credit unions. It’s heartening to see so many consumers discovering what we’ve been saying all along: Credit unions are the best choice for financial services.

For all those gains, however, I believe the movement has the potential to reach still-greater heights. I would like to see today’s credit union movement strive toward a common vision in which a majority of Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner.

U.S. credit unions crossed several major milestones this past year—exceeding $1 trillion in assets and 95 million members. We’ve come far, but we’re not there yet.

Credit unions still have:

  • About 7% market share of household financial assets versus banks and thrifts;
  • Only 95 million members in a nation of more than 300 million people, meaning most Americans still turn elsewhere for financial services; and
  • Fewer than half of these 95 million members use their credit unions as their primary financial institutions.

NEXT: ‘Plan to Win’

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