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Bank transfers lift credit unions

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Friday, November 4, 2011
Posted: 3 pm ET

It looks like despite backtracking from big banks on their plans to introduce debit card fees, Bank Transfer Day and customers fed up with fees are having an impact on the banking industry.

The Credit Union National Association, known as CUNA, gave word this week that 5,000 of the nation's credit unions had signed up at least 650,000 new customers nationwide since Sept. 29. From the press release:

(Bill Cheney, president and CEO of CUNA) said the growth is particularly noticeable at larger credit unions (those with $100 million or more in assets, which account for about 20 percent of all credit unions – but count about 80 percent of all credit union members). The CUNA survey shows that more than 70 percent of these credit unions reported they have seen growth in memberships and deposits since Sept. 29.

Cheney noted that many credit unions across the nation –whether they are realizing new members or not –are making special efforts to tap the surging interest in credit unions.

"They are conducting advertising campaigns (by themselves or cooperatively with other credit unions), sending 'switch kits' to existing members to share with family members or other prospective members, beefing up web sites, extending hours and staffing for this Saturday (Nov. 5), performing email blasts to members, maximizing social media campaigns, putting up banners in lobbies (and on their buildings), offering bonuses to members who bring in new members (and giving bonuses to new members as well)," Cheney said.

This type of response to a small monthly fee is remarkable, especially when you consider that even earlier this year, fees were showing up as, at best, a secondary consideration for those shopping for a new checking account in consumer polling.

So what changed? I think what we're seeing the confluence of two key trends: Lingering resentment stemming from the financial crisis and the bank bailouts is meeting a newfound sense of frugality coming out of tight consumer budgets and negative expectations about the economy.

Now, people are not only watching their expenses more closely than they have in years, making them more likely to notice those new banks fees, but their negative feelings about big banks are pushing them to take action to avoid those fees. It's clear we've reached some kind of a tipping point on bank fees, and big banks are going to have to be extraordinarily careful to avoid provoking this kind of a response again, if they want to avoid another mass migration.

What do you think? What's made people suddenly sit up and take notice of fees? Did you switch to a credit union recently, and if so, why?

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1 Comment
Phyllis Reid
December 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Yes, I just switched to a credit union. I'm sick of paying ridiculous bank interest rates and fees and receiving NOTHING in return so the upper 1% of the banks' management can live lavish lifestyles and continue to receive golden parachutes. We are the 99% and we're making our voices heard.