Credit unions bank on local loyalty

BOULDER – Most credit unions in the Boulder Valley have grown steadily in recent years, thanks to several trends in the financial world, executives say.

Nationally, credit unions have benefited from anti-bank sentiment and the specific “bank transfer day” initiatives held to protest increases in bank fees in recent years, according to the National Credit Union Association and executives at some credit unions in the Boulder Valley.

Elevations Credit Union has seen some membership growth from the nationally announced “transfer days” in recent years, said Dennis Paul, an assistant vice president at the credit union. Customers in the Boulder Valley also have a propensity to do business with local companies, which has helped the Boulder-based credit union grow its membership, he said.

Elevations grew 4.1 percent in membership in 2012, Paul said, without giving specific member figures. This year, the credit union has grown 3.5 percent in membership through the end of September, Paul said.

However, member bankers in Colorado feel that “bank transfer day” initiatives are “nothing more than a marketing ploy,´ said Jenifer Waller, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bankers Association, a member-based industry group based in Denver.

Credit unions do not offer more or better services than banks do, Waller said. Because of the way credit unions are set up, they also do not pay federal corporate income tax as banks do, Waller said.

“Customers should always do their homework when determining where they want to do business to ensure the institution meets the customer’s needs,” Waller said.

Premier Members Federal Credit Union in Boulder added about 100 new members per month in 2012, or 1,159 members for the year, said Carlos Pacheco, chief executive. Pacheco attributed the growth in part to a successful statewide auto loan program in which Premier participates.

“There’s a resurgence of car buying. With the average age of cars, people are looking to replace them,” Pacheco said. “That has really helped from the indirect side.”

Premier Members’ assets grew to $429 million in 2012 from $402 million in 2011, Pacheco said. Community Financial Credit Union plans to open a third location at 136th Avenue and Huron Street in Broomfield late in 2014 as a result of its growth this year, said Greg Hill, chief executive of the credit union.

Membership has grown 2 percent – mostly from word-of-mouth advertising – in the last year, Hill said. The growth meant a net new 200 to 300 customers, he said. Asset and loan growth has gone up even faster, Hill said, without giving specifics.

Customers receive year-end dividends from Community Financial, and that often encourages them to tell their friends to join up, Hill said.

“We reward our most loyal members. That’s what we’re focusing on, and it’s working,” Hill said. “People appreciate that.”

The credit union has about 11,700 members and about $142 million in assets. Membership growth in the past year came after three or four years of annual shrinkage, Hill said.

Boulder Valley Credit Union in Boulder posted nearly 10 percent membership growth in 2012 to 20,843 members, said Jason Bauer, the credit union’s vice president for communications and e-commerce. The credit union is on pace to post 5 percent to 6 percent growth in 2013, with 21,750 members so far this year, Bauer said.

Membership growth in 2012 was buoyed by an acquisition of Indiana Members Credit Union’s Boulder branch, Bauer has said. Members benefit from the credit union’s push to offer mobile banking applications, Bauer said.

“More members are seeking a financial partner that has committed to technology and can provide them all of the latest and greatest features such as mobile check deposit and person-to-person payments,” Bauer said.

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