Credit unions prosper from banks' woes

Richer deposits

Years after the banking crisis, the growth in the number of people depositing money with credit unions continues to outpace the number of new depositors in banks.

In the Augusta metro area, the amount of money in credit union accounts is 23 percent higher than it was four years ago.

According to reports filed with the National Credit Union Association, the 13 credit unions that are based in the area had $839.7 million in deposits as of June.

Add credit unions based out of the metro area with branches that serve Augusta, such as Associated Credit Union and Navy Federal, that tally is at least $50 million more.

In December 2008, at the beginning of the financial meltdown, deposits in locally-run credit unions were $691.9 million, including the balances in CSRA Federal Credit Union, which merged with Atlanta-based Associated in 2009.

Local bank deposits have also grown since the financial crisis. In 2008, there was $6.6 billion entrusted to bank accounts, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It has since increased past $7.3 billion, but that is less than half the rate of growth seen by credit unions.

While the backlash over banks attempting to charge monthly debit-card fees stirred the recent switch to credit unions, the banking crisis and bailouts of four years ago got the ball rolling, according to an analysis by Charlottesville, Va.-based SNL Financial.

Nationally, SNL reported, credit-union deposit balances have grown 43 percent since 2006. Banks have grown 31 percent since then.

Phyllis Cochran, chief executive at Augusta VAH Federal Credit Union, acknowledged that deposits have been a major growth area for the financial institution.

‘‘I think with the economy and what has happened to people investing in the market and taking their chances, credit unions have remained strong and healthy,’’ Cochran said. ‘‘That growth comes from people having confidence in their credit unions.’’

VAH has grown 19.8 percent since the banking crisis, according to its periodic reports filed with the National Credit Union Association. Its total shares and deposits were $52 million at the end of June. It has 9,937 members, 2.9 percent higher than the end of 2008.

‘‘We are the ones who gladly make the loans to people who need to buy things that larger institutions are not going to give them the time of day. For instance, going back to school, they need $500 to buy their kid new clothes, or $1,000 for a computer. That’s not something that you walk into larger financial institutions today and get,’’ Cochran said. 

Cochran said people are seeking financial stability because they have endured so many other changes, especially in bank fees.

‘‘Every time a bank merges, it really and truly helps us,’’ Cochran said of the credit union industry.

The disruption in the banking system started in the autumn of 2008 when Washington Mutual failed and was acquired by JPMorgan Chase. At $307 billion in assets, it was the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

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