By US Daily Review Staff.
America’s 7,300 credit unions have topped $1 trillion in total assets, a milestone achieved in part through the past year’s above-average growth in consumer membership.
At the end of March, U.S. credit unions had $1.02 trillion in total assets, according to the latest Monthly Credit Union Estimates survey released this week by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the nation’s largest credit union trade group.
The asset figure represents a 0.6% increase from the prior month, and a 2.5% jump since March 2011. A significant driver of asset growth over the past year has been the gains credit unions have been seeing in new people becoming members, according to CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel.
“Last year new-member growth at credit unions was fueled by consumers’ dissatisfaction with high bank fees and the emergence of the Bank Transfer Day phenomenon,” noted Hampel, referring to the viral campaign that urged consumers to move their money from big banks to credit unions on Nov. 5, 2011, which was dubbed Bank Transfer Day. “The influx of new members and deposits in turn powered credit unions’ asset growth.”
“Going into 2012, it has been gratifying to see strong membership growth continuing,” Hampel said. “Clearly, Bank Transfer Day has a tail to it. Net membership growth at credit unions during the first three months of 2012 is greater than membership growth for the whole of 2010. People are discovering it is easier to join a credit union than they think, and they get a great deal both in terms of pricing and service.”
Credit unions are not-for-profit, financial cooperatives, owned by the members they serve. Today more than 94 million Americans belong to the nation’s 7,300 credit unions. Each credit union has a specific field of membership, based on where its members live, work or associate.
While the number of credit unions peaked in the early 1970s before a consolidation trend began, credit unions have been steadily growing in total assets and membership in the more than 100 years since the first credit union (St. Mary’s Bank Credit Union in Manchester, New Hampshire) opened its doors in 1908.
Many credit unions today offer the full range of financial services typically found at a bank. While banks use their customer base to maximize profits to outside investors, credit unions have a different business model as not-for-profit, member-owned cooperatives – which they use to maximize service to their members.
Credit unions return earnings back to the membership, typically in the form of higher rates on savings, lower rates on loans, and lower or fewer fees. Last year, consumers saved more than $6 billion in better rates and lower fees by using credit unions rather than banks, according to CUNA estimates.
The $1 trillion asset mark is an industry milestone for credit unions. However, the credit union sector of the financial services industry has less than 7% market share compared to the entire banking sector and is still far smaller in terms of total assets. Commercial banks in the U.S. have $12.6 trillion in total assets as of year-end 2011, and indeed the individual asset sizes of at least four of U.S. mega-banks alone top $1 trillion.
But CUNA’s Hampel noted credit unions’ asset growth is outpacing smaller banks, many of which are being absorbed by bigger banks. “Credit unions increasingly are becoming an alternative to mega-financial institutions when consumers are looking for a locally based, more consumer-friendly option,” Hampel said.
According to a statement, “With its network of affiliated state credit union leagues, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) serves about 90 percent of America’s 7,300 state and federally chartered credit unions, which are owned by more than 95million consumer members. Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives providing affordable financial services to people from all walks of life.”