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No media letup on where membership growth occurred

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WASHINGTON (11/14/11)--Throughout last week, extensive news coverage across the nation continued to focus on the record consumer shift to credit unions and the impact of Nov. 5th's Bank Transfer Day.  Most of the coverage shifted from the national arena to local coverage, especially local television coverage in states that released statistics about the exodus to credit unions.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has continued to monitor the coverage and estimates that in addition to national media coverage, roughly 150 television stations throughout the U.S. ran segments on the consumer shift to credit unions--on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 alone--all citing national estimates from CUNA's survey of credit unions' growth since Sept. 29.

The latest statistics:  700,000 new accounts at credit unions since Sept. 29, including 40,000 from Bank Transfer Day alone. During the period credit unions saw an influx of $4.5 billion in new deposits from new and existing members.

The statistics noted that 650,000 new accounts recorded in the month prior to Bank Transfer Day set a monthly record.  CUNA's estimates from records going back to 2001 indicate that the previous monthly record was 93,425 new members in August 2010.

The $4.5 billion in new deposits did not set a monthly record. For example, members deposited roughly $15 billion into credit unions in February.  However, the increase in deposits suggests that the recent 4% annualized trend growth in deposits rose by 50% to roughly 6% deposit growth annualized, CUNA said.

As the week progressed and state leagues received CUNA's state-by-state estimates,  many leagues distributed that information to local media and coverage picked up on local television stations, newspapers, and online sites. Often, local media continued to offer examples from credit unions in their area with sudden growth spurts in the wake of debit card fees announced--and later rescinded--by Bank of America and other large banks. Many stations interviewed consumers who told why they switched from a bank to the credit union, which generated more positive coverage about the benefits of credit unions.

CUNA's statistics indicate that the more pronounced growth was on both coasts of the U.S., as well as in urban areas and areas where the Occupy Wall Street rallies were taking place.  Areas with large concentrations of community banks or little megabank presence were less likely to report high levels of dissatisfaction among consumers and those areas seem to have had less transfer activity. However, not enough responses state by state were collected to pinpoint specific geographic differences.

Meanwhile national media examined the impact Bank Transfer Day and the rush to credit unions has had on banks.  An American Banker article noted that these events would not likely have a large impact on mega banks. Forbes published an opinion-editorial that said the shift to smaller institutions would be good for entrepreneurs. That provided an indirect boost for credit unions' and CUNA's  push to raise the member business lending (MBL) cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25% to allow more credit unions to make MBL loans. Raising the cap would inject $13 billion into the economy through MBL loans  and help generate 140,000 new jobs without cost to the taxpayer. The Washington Post reported the impact of the Dodd-Frank Act on small banks and credit unions.

And a blog on the website of research powerhouse J.D. Powers and Associates featured CUNA's statistics and a link to a News Now story about the numbers.

Another significant footnote, besides the intensity of the coverage, is its length. Credit unions are enjoying far more than the typical media standard of "15 minutes of fame." They've enjoyed a solid seven weeks of extensive positive coverage and achieved more in making the public aware of the credit union difference than they could in years' of promotions.  As a result, credit unions are hoping this is just the beginning of a long, steady flow of new members and opportunities.