Credit unions prosper as banks suffer

As some of the nation's best known banks ran aground financially last year, Troy Stang began seeing a pattern that has continued in the following months.

Stang, the chief executive officer at the Beaverton-based Oregon Credit Union Association, has seen growing deposits and membership as banks such as Washington Mutual and Wachovia have left the scene.

"In 2008, we experienced 2 percent growth statewide and most of that happened in the last two quarters," Stang said. "Washington Mutual was a contributing factor along with friends, families and neighbors."

Stang, who took in the Rogue Federal Credit Union annual meeting on Tuesday, said that the Medford-based credit union had deposit growth of between 20 and 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

"Customers are looking at credit unions as a great option because of our not-for-profit structure," Stang said. "I'm hearing we've got significant growth from every corner of the state in the first quarter."

In a 10-year period ending in 2008, RFCU saw its deposits grow from $145 million to $367 million while doubling its offices to 11. Its membership grew by nearly 50 percent to more than 44,000 and assets grew in a parallel manner to $416 million.

Northwest Community Credit Union, which covers much of the western and central part of the state, nearly tripled its deposits to $570.6 million in the past decade, while assets have shot up to $644 million from $220 million.

Oregon's credit unions now claim 40 percent of adults 18-and-older as members and a 26.6 percent market share of loans, savings, checking deposits and consumer loans.

The first credit unions appeared in the 1920s and they were commonplace by the 1960s. However, it wasn't until the 1990s, when Congress passed legislation making credit unions community-chartered instead of institution-centric, that they really gathered steam.

While assets and membership grew, the number of institutions declined. In 1998, for example, Oregon had 123 separate credit unions with $6.6 billion in assets. By 2007, there were 83 institutions with assets of $14.4 billion.

Credit unions merged primarily so they could afford to offer additional services such as checking accounts and credit cards.

"You can't provide those kinds of services when you're operating out of the top drawer at your desk," Stang said.

He was referring to the way many credit unions operated in simpler times when they primarily handled small savings accounts and consumer loans. OPC Credit Union in Durkee, he said, runs just that way in handling limited financial affairs for its 375 cement plant workers and retirees. It has $2.5 million in assets.

The state's smallest credit union is run by an accounting firm in Portland with 125 members and assets of $435,000. Radio Cab Credit Union in Portland serves 340 taxi drivers and provides financing for its members, thus it has $300 million in assets.

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