The story of your credit union
Whatcom Educational Credit Union began as a volunteer operation on June 3rd, 1936 and has evolved into the largest credit union in Whatcom County with over 280 employees. What follows is a brief synopsis of the evolution of WECU®, highlighting the important decisions that have contributed to its current direction and success.
We were chartered in 1936 as Bellingham Teachers' Credit Union and served classroom teachers and public school teachers. Soon public school administrators and faculty of Washington State Normal School (now Western Washington University) became eligible. The cost of membership was $.25 and the initial deposit was, and still is, $5.00.
Toward the end of the forties there was a lack of business and the acquisition of very little revenue; there was even discussion about closing the Credit Union because at the time just over 50 percent of borrowers had delinquent accounts. But, the directors felt that as soon as cars and refrigerators were on the market, the number of loans would increase and business would prosper. Indeed, in the early fifties loans and accounts grew.
The Mason Bill of the late fifties threatened the tax-exempt status of credit unions and members were urged to write their Congressmen. Our tax-exempt status is still threatened by bank-initiated legislation. All the while, the credit union was growing rapidly. In 1962 the IRS mandated that any member earning more than $1 in dividends must report it. We reached the half-million mark in 1965 and, with Bellingham Employees Credit Union (now North Coast Credit Union), bought our first facility on Lottie Street in Bellingham. It was then the state auditors allowed us two types of loans, secured and unsecured. At the same time we agreed to maintain 5 percent of total assets in cash or other legal investments.
Dependents of members became eligible to join in 1967. Later in the sixties we moved from the shared space and into our own facility on Lottie Street. In 1973 our current CEO, Wayne Langei, was hired and managed three employees and just over one million in assets. Our membership now included parochial schools.
We made a lot of changes and experienced growth in the seventies. We purchased our Birchwood office in 1973 complete with two drive-up lanes. In the mid-seventies we changed our name to Whatcom Educational Credit Union and all school districts were on payroll deduction. In 1977 we installed our first computer terminal and went on-line in 1978.
Funds were set aside for 20-year real estate loans to help expand the scope of WECU's services. By 1978, we had one half-time and nine full-time employees; assets reached $8 million.
In 1980 WECU® merged with Medical and Hospital Credit Union. Our field of membership was expanded to include part-time employees of public and parochial schools in Whatcom County. Free checking accounts were offered to people over 62 with direct deposit of their social security checks. Policies for 30-month certificates of deposit, IRAs, money markets, and Canadian currency were established. Visa cards were initially issued through Peoples State Bank.
Property on the corner of High and Holly and a mobile home were purchased to open a branch. The accounting department moved to an off-site location a block away from the Birchwood office. In 1983 we purchased our first in-house computer system from World Computer Corporation. Our mobile Holly branch was robbed in 1984.
In 1985 the building that now houses our main office was purchased. After design and renovation, we moved into the new facility in 1988 leaving the Birchwood office as a branch. By the end of that year assets had reached $50 million. In 1990 we purchased our in-house UltraData computer system.
In 1994, WECU® merged with Washington Telco CU, leading to our first off site full service branch, Delft Square in Lynden. Delft Square set the precedent for the other full service branches that followed over the next few years: Costco, Ferndale, and Barkley Village. In 1994 we enlarged the Holly office with a three-story addition. In the mid to late '90s we added a real estate department, check cards, a web site and home banking via the Internet. We also put a pc on every desktop, reorganized our loan and new accounts department into a member service one stop shop for our members. Due to three robberies, WECU® decided to close its Costco office for the safety of our members. In June of 2002 we expanded our charter, making all residents of Whatcom County eligible for membership.
In 2004 we expanded our business department to further promote commercial loans, business visas and commercial real-estate loans. To accommodate our growing membership, we also expanded our branch hours. Also in 2004, we opened our Fountain branch. Shortly thereafter our new branch was robbed. In 2005 we further restructured our business account procedures to accommodate Whatcom County's wide range of growing businesses. To foster greater space efficiency and environmental friendliness, we implemented an electronic in-house records retention program. Our eventual goal is to become a 'paperless' financial institution. In early May 2005 we opened our new Lynden branch, in October of 2006 our Fairhaven branch -with its innovative teller/loan officer desks- and in November 2006 our Blaine Branch.
In late May of 2006 we opened a small branch in the Everson community and a small office in Bellis Fair Mall followed in October of 2006. In February of 2007 we opened our Business & Home Loan Center, the first privately funded 'green' building in Whatcom County. In early September of 2007 we joined the Sudden Valley community, opening a small branch on Lake Whatcom Boulevard and in February of 2008 we opened our new Ferndale branch to serve the growing community of Ferndale. In April of 2008 we closed our Barkley Village branch and moved to our new Sunset branch. On June 9th, 2008 the historic Delft Square building in Lynden burned down and we were forced to close our Delft Square branch. In late 2008 we purchased the Bank of the Pacific building in Everson and our Everson branch staff moved across the parking lot into that space. We now have 11 branches, over 69,784 members and over $881,655,396 in assets.