Residents of the Pacific Northwest love credit unions. In the state of Washington, specifically, about 54% of people are credit union members, which is significantly higher than many other locales in the US. WECU, with more than 98,000 members, is the largest credit union in Whatcom County. 

What accounts for this affinity for credit unions – and WECU? Understanding the key differences between credit unions and banks is a great place to start.

Profit vs. Not-for-Profit

Banks are for profit; credit unions are not-for-profit. This means that structurally, banks’ primary goal is to make money and structurally, credit unions do not have to put profit first.

Shareholders vs. Members

Many banks have private ownership, which means that they’re owned by multiple people, or an investment group. Other banks are publicly traded and therefore owned by shareholders whose desire is to make money from their stake in the bank. Credit unions are owned by their members, meaning the customers and owners are one and the same.

Geographically Limited (Sort of)

Most credit unions serve a specific geographic region or state. Being local means that loan decisions are made by people who live in the same communities as credit union members. It also means all employment stays local and profits are reinvested into the community rather than being returned to investors, shareholders, or stakeholders in different geographic locations.

Higher Saving Rates & Lower Interest Rates

According to a recent Bankrate study, credit unions offer higher savings rates and lower interest rates on loans for their members than banks do for their customers. Being for profit, banks seek to maximize profit which means they often offer less attractive terms.

Lower Fees

Again, because credit unions don’t need to maximize profit, they often charge fewer fees.

Democratic Representation

Credit union members have a say in who runs their credit union. Every credit union has a democratically elected board that serves as the highest governing body. Many credit unions, like WECU, have volunteer boards. If the credit union isn’t being run the way the members want, they have a direct say in how change may be initated.

Advocates

Credit unions are often more likely to work with a member through a challenging time, to get them back on track. This, again, comes back to the not-for-profit structure and the “people helping people” nature of cooperative banking.

Cooperative ATM Network

Credit unions cooperate. If you’re a credit union member, you have access to over 30,000 surcharge-free ATM’s across the country, which is more than any of the largest banks.

Long Termism vs. Short Termism

Banks often have CEO’s, board members, and management that are motivated by short term bonuses, stock options, and sales targets. Credit unions, being not-for-profit, often take a longer-term perspective, leaning toward responsible lending, sustainability, and consistent growth.

Credit Union Strong

When you choose a financial institution, you’re not just choosing a pretty debit card or a slick app. You are choosing not-for-profit versus for profit, big business versus small business, local jobs and investment versus jobs concentrated in the financial districts of major cities. You’re making a choice between too big to fail, and small enough to care. So, while it may seem like a mundane and mainly transactional choice, when it comes down to it, it means a lot.