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Northwest CUs pick up 9.2 of nations new members
FEDERAL WAY, Wash., and BEAVERTON, Ore. (3/14/12)--Two states, Washington and Oregon, accounted for 9.2% of the nation's total new membership gain of 1,344,936 during 2011, according to National Credit Union Administration data.

The two states added 123,752 new credit union members last year, with Washington attracting 104,000 members and Oregon picking up nearly 20,000. During fourth quarter alone, they combined for 50,000 new memberships, bringing the total membership in Oregon and Washington to 4.2 million.

Nationally, the fourth quarter saw a net membership gain of 398,732.  Washington added 38,301 or nearly 10% of the nation's new membership for that quarter. Oregon added about 11,400 members, which represents more than half its yearly net membership gain.

"Last year was historic in terms of credit union awareness," said Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) CEO John Annaloro. "As a region, though, the Pacific Northwest--especially Washington--outperformed most of the rest of the nation by 15%-to-20% in terms of pure gains."

NWCUA noted that the 2011 membership numbers in Oregon are skewed by an interstate merger of First Tech FCU in Beaverton, with California's Addison Avenue CU. The merger caused about 162,000 Oregon members to shift under this technicality to become part of California's numbers.  The data, which adjusts for this, show that 19,753 consumers joined a credit union in the state in 2011.

"A lot of factors played into what happened during last year's fourth quarter," said NWCUA President Troy Stang. "The important takeaway is that more people have access to cooperative finance than ever before at a time when it is desperately needed."

Many reasons exist as to why consumers moved their money to a credit union last year, but Bank of America's announcement that it would charge a $5 a month debit card fee undoubtedly contributed, said NWCUA.

"We've always said that if consumers have a reason to consider credit unions, that cooperative finance would win the day," said David Bennett, NWCUA director of public relations. "2011, especially its fourth quarter, proves that the benefits of being a credit union member are far more powerful than being a nameless customer of a big bank."

Washington was one of the states that worked more directly with some groups of the Occupy movement, such as Occupy Seattle.

"We did things differently here for Bank Transfer Day than what most associations did around the country," said Bennett, noting he and several credit union volunteers "actively engaged Occupy Seattle" when it requested them to help. "The group "told us what it was going to do--march people to credit unions and make a big show of it and drop them off so they could sign up [for memberships or new accounts]. They asked us to help them do it appropriately and in a way that was as comfortable for credit unions as it was going to be uncomfortable for banks," he said.

Occupy asked NWCUA and credit unions "for information on how to join and where to join. We didn't have to explain why," said Bennett. "Occupy Seattle chose us, and we had the responsibility to provide that information. Our earned media exposure was nearly 100% positive, and we had acres of it."

Bennett noted that "credit unions were not at Bank Transfer Day in Seattle to march, yell or scream. Credit unions were there to serve members of our community who were asking for help."


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