I really like this story in the LA Times about the opening of the Vashon Island branch of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union (h/t to Occupy Seattle’s Facebook).
The movement has spurred thousands of Americans to move their accounts out of mega-banks, but many have had to resort instead to big regional credit unions. Here, a group of hard-core Vashon activists, already seasoned in anticorporate campaigns, hit on the idea of merging with a small credit union to create a new branch on the island.
That office has managed, in its first year of operation, to enroll an astonishing 16% of the population and collect local deposits of almost $20 million.
“What surprised me about it was how rapidly the community embraced the credit union,” said Rob Harmon, a green economy pioneer who was part of the organizing committee. “We had wild dreams that in the first year $10 million would move. … And in the first year, $17.5 million moved. So we’re 70% above our wildest dreams.”
Last year, 1.3 million people across the U.S. joined credit unions, the lower-fee, not-for-profit alternative to commercial banks — double the rate from 2010. Once relegated to small offices at big companies, credit unions over the last 15 years have taken advantage of relaxed federal regulations to expand their membership.
Vashon organizers say the key to their success — a template they hope to share with other communities — was the decision to abandon the capital-intensive process of chartering their own credit union. Instead, they joined a small, existing credit union willing to cede substantial control in exchange for new members and deposits.
Harmon and Moyer were talking one day in 2009 about how to create a coal-free zone on the island. They needed to help people weatherize their homes, but none of the three Wall Street banks on the island wanted to make those kinds of loans except as home equity loans.
With the news of JP Morgan Chase losing $2 Billion in a way that shows they haven’t learned thing one, it’s quite timely.